PROVO — Defense attorneys seeking to take the death penalty off the table for their client accused of killing a young couple in 2018 are alleging misconduct on the part of Utah County prosecutors, who deny any wrongdoing.
The lawyers for Jerrod William Baum, 44, say a prior plea deal for a star witness has created an incentive for the state to rely on an "agreed-upon" story, rather than the truth.
Baum's defense team also alleges prosecutors know about evidence that could be favorable to their client but haven't collected it, among other examples they say amount to misconduct.
"The incentives in this case do not lie on the side of justice," they wrote in court filings.
Prosecutors in the Utah County Attorney's Office say that's not the case and they've turned over the evidence they have. Even if they had engaged in misconduct, the penalties Baum's defense team is seeking don't fit the alleged conduct, the state responded in court documents.
"Defendant's claims fail because there was no wrongdoing by the state," deputy county attorney Ryan McBride wrote in a recent court filing.
It's the latest turn in a case that has stretched on for more than three years as family members seek justice in the deaths of Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne "Breezy" Otteson, 17.
Baum is accused of bringing the couple to Utah's vast west desert at night, slitting their throats and dumping their bodies into an abandoned mineshaft in front of his ex-girlfriend Morgan Henderson, the star witness in the state's case.
Baum's lawyers are asking a judge to either toss the double-murder case altogether or strike the state's notice to seek the death penalty, move it to a new county and have outside prosecutors handle it.
They are seeking to keep a jury from hearing testimony from Henderson, who took the stand to describe in vivid detail how Baum killed the couple.
They noted one person recalled Henderson saying she'd been the one to kill Powell, and that her sister described how she'd once made a comment about "wanting to kill someone (not otherwise connected to this case) and throw the body in a mineshaft."
But those are issues to be ferreted out in court when both sides present evidence and cross-examine witnesses, the state said. They contend Baum threatened to kill Henderson and her son if she didn't cooperate with him.
Henderson struck a deal to testify truthfully, the state said, and her testimony has been corroborated after it revealed the location of the bodies, the sorts of injuries to the victims and other factors.
A judge hasn't yet ruled on the motions or scheduled a hearing.
Baum has pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated murder, a first-degree felony.
His defense attorneys are reiterating their belief that Utah County Attorney David Leavitt violated a gag order by maintaining a video of a press conference about the case on his Facebook page. They asked Pullan last year to take the death penalty off the table as punishment.
Leavitt said it was an oversight, and the judge declined to find him in contempt over the video, ruling Leavitt didn't intentionally violate the order.