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‘I wanted those families to know what happened’: Ex-girlfriend testifies against man charged with murdering young Utah couple

SHARE ‘I wanted those families to know what happened’: Ex-girlfriend testifies against man charged with murdering young Utah couple

PROVO — A young couple who had visited her to pick up cigarettes were suddenly piled in the back of their Jeep while her boyfriend took the wheel and sped over country roads and into the desert.

Morgan Henderson did not know that her friend and his girlfriend had been bound and gagged until Jerrod Baum put the car in park, ripped the tape from their mouths and helped them to a smoke, she testified Wednesday. He led the group across an expanse of snow and sage brush to a gaping hole in the ground in December 2017.

Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17, and Riley Powell, 18, were killed and their bodies and dumped in an abandoned mine shaft near Mammoth, Juab County, on Dec. 30. Their accused killer, Jerrod Baum, faces a possible death penalty if convicted.

Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17, and Riley Powell, 18.

Otteson and Powell families

"I thought I was going to die," Henderson recalled in Provo's 4th District Court, where she testified against Baum as part of an agreement with prosecutors that resolved several of her own criminal charges.

Her vivid testimony provided the first detailed account of the moments leading to the deaths of Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne "Breezy" Otteson, 17. A judge could rule as early as Thursday whether there is enough evidence for Baum to stand trial for two charges of aggravated murder. A conviction carries a possible death sentence.

At the preliminary hearing Wednesday, Henderson said Baum fumed when he had returned to their home in the tiny Juab County town of Mammoth and found the young couple.

"I told you you couldn't have guy friends," she recalled him saying. She feared he'd become violent, but instead he calmly pulled a fleece jacket of hers from the wardrobe and thin black gloves.

"His anger completely turned off and he was charming," she recalled. On the drive, Baum apologized for the inconvenience but the teens didn't respond, she recounted.

The Jeep raced east and arrived at the foot of a cliff, Henderson said, where Baum joked with the couple as he led them into the night. She reported feeling increasingly afraid and finding it difficult to swallow.

When the teen girl asked to be untied and told Baum she was pregnant, he replied, "We're almost there," Henderson testified.

After crossing about 1/4 mile, they came to the gaping mine shaft, she said, where Baum's smile disappeared and he pushed her and a whimpering Otteson to their knees, rejecting Powell's request to kiss his girlfriend. She believed Baum then started to beat Powell and call him names, but soon realized he was actually stabbing her friend, she said.

Baum then waved and said "Goodbye, Riley," pushing his body over the edge, Henderson testified.

"I promise I won't tell anyone," Otteson pleaded as Baum, 42, approached her, according to Henderson. He replied "It's OK, darlin'" before slitting the girl's throat, cradling her body and then dropping her in the mine, Henderson said.

"Like lambs to the slaughter. They didn't even fight," she recalled Baum saying, adding that he suggested Henderson was responsible for the deaths.

"He looked manic. He looked high. He looked overjoyed," she said. "He said the next time I start crying about stupid Riley, I need to think about my little boy and whether I want him to grow up."

Henderson, who also goes by the last name Lewis, wore a black hoodie and ponytail Wednesday, sometimes pausing for several seconds before answering attorneys' questions. She said Baum bleached and burned their clothes after the killings. When police visited, she claimed to know nothing except that the teens had visited.

Their bodies were not found until March 28, 2018.

As part of an agreement she reached with prosecutors in October, she told investigators what she says happened. Under the terms of the plea deal, Henderson, 35, admitted to initially lying to authorities and will be released from jail once Baum's case is resolved.

In all, Baum faces eight felony charges in connection with the deaths. On Wednesday, he sported a beard, glasses and orange-striped jumpsuit. He has not yet entered a plea to the charges and members of his family declined comment.

Three months after Otteson and Powell were killed, the weight of her role in the deaths and its toll on the young couple's families had set in for Henderson.

"I had tremendous guilt. I felt responsible," she said. But she feared telling the truth would put her son in danger. Suicide seemed the better option.

Henderson resolved to take psychedelic mushrooms and go into the mountains to kill herself, but police stopped her for speeding while on the way. She agreed to start telling officers her account of what happened in December 2017 after one told her "the truth will set you free."

"I wanted those families to know what happened," she said.

Henderson's testimony conflicted with the conclusion of a medical examiner who reviewed autopsies and other documents, finding Otteson and Powell were bound behind their backs. Henderson recalled their hands were tied in the front.

Defense attorneys needled Henderson's credibility Wednesday, questioning how she distinguishes reality from her hallucinations. She has schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and depression, but is not taking a medication she needs due to a drug shortage, she said.

Baum's attorneys also focused on the shock therapy she has received for depression, which affects her memory, and on her use of mushrooms.

Otteson's aunt, Amanda Hunt, said the testimony Wednesday was hard to hear.

"To hear Morgan say, as a mother she felt guilt, that's the first time we heard that," she said. "It puts the puzzle pieces together. But we've lived it for the last year."

Correction: A photo caption in an earlier version incorrectly identified Amanda Hunt as Morgan Henderson.