After a trial that lasted more than a month, a jury on Friday found Jerrod Baum guilty of brutally murdering a young Utah couple four years ago and tossing their bodies into the Tintic Standard Mine outside Eureka, Juab County.
The jury deliberated for more than 18 hours since Wednesday before delivering the verdicts late Friday afternoon.
Family members of Brelynne "Breezy" Otteson, 17, and Riley Powell, 18, were emotional as the verdicts were read, but they kept their composure. For Otteson's aunt, Amanda Davis, hearing the words "guilty" was a huge relief.
"It's been a tense four years, and to hear that first 'guilty' was, it was like it was a weight lifted. It's been long overdue, but we did it," she said. "We got justice for the kids."
In addition to two counts of aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, the jury also found Baum guilty of six other charges: two counts of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony; two counts of abuse or desecration of a dead human body, a third-degree felony; and obstructing justice, a second-degree felony. For the aggravated murder charges, he faces a potential maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan ordered a presentence report from Adult Probation and Parole and said he will sentence Baum on Wednesday, June 1, at 9 a.m.
The trial for Baum, 45, began more than seven weeks ago with jury selection on Feb. 23. Attorneys began presenting evidence on March 7 and finished testimony on Tuesday.
Davis said the case has been a long and painful journey. She attended every day of the trial, in addition to many other court hearings over the last four years.
"We searched for three months, we waited four years for justice for these kids," Davis said, "and it was worth the wait."
She was hoping for a verdict on Thursday, which she said was four years since the last funeral they held for Otteson and Powell. She said it would have been "a great gift" to have the verdict come on that day, but she was happy with Friday's decision.
In closing arguments Wednesday, deputy Utah County attorney Christine Scott reminded jurors about the search for Powell and Otteson that began in late December 2017 and how police heard Morgan Lewis' account of their brutal deaths, and how their bodies were eventually found. Lewis is Baum's former girlfriend who said she witnessed the killings firsthand.
"Jerrod Baum kidnapped Riley and Breezy, murdered Riley and Breezy. Keep in mind their bodies in the mineshaft. We ask that you find him guilty," she said.
Dallas Young, Baum's attorney, during his closing arguments told jurors they were not being asked to decide whether what happened was emotional or bad, which he said is clear. Instead, they were tasked with deciding whether prosecutors fulfilled their burden to prove that the crimes were committed by Baum.
Young said the entire case boils down to a single question: Can Lewis be believed? He said the only evidence that implicates Baum is from her, and nothing from other witnesses. He said that the story she told police changed over time, and questioned whether she could be trusted now.
"Without Morgan (Lewis), there is no case because all of this — this impressive array of all this stuff that you see — none of it implicates Jerrod in the slightest," Young said. "You cannot believe her, and you cannot be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt."
Deputy Utah County attorney Ryan McBride told jurors the bodies of Otteson and Powell were only found because Lewis came forward and told police where to look. He said Lewis is not the hero, but she isn't the villain, either. He said everything, not just Lewis' testimony, points to Baum's guilt.
Mine to be closed
State mining officials said Thursday that the mine where the bodies of Otteson and Powell were found was slated to be closed this year as part of a larger project, but a change in ownership means that much of the process will need to start over and it could take a few more years.
Hollie Brown, a spokeswoman with the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, said that there is the potential for hazards with an open mine shaft. The state program has closed 7,000 open abandoned mines since 1983.
"For people that are looking to dispose of illegal substances, and unfortunately bodies, they might think that 'we can throw it in there and they'll never be found ... and sometimes that might be the case," Brown said.
She said the incident with Otteson and Powell highlights the need to close open mines like this one.
There is a memorial for the two teenagers near the mine with photos, stuffed animals, flowers and more.
‘These kids were worth that’
Baum had originally faced a potential death sentence, but Utah County Attorney David Leavitt changed his mind last year and took that option off the table for this case and said he does not plan to seek the death penalty in any future criminal case.
Bill Powell, Riley Powell's dad, said earlier Friday the family is hoping for two sentences of life without parole. He wishes the death penalty were still a possibility in this case.
"We can't see any possible way to ever get the death penalty back in our case. We need to get things done in the system where if there's going to be a death penalty, they need to use it," Powell said.
He said that a sentence of life without parole is just another day for Baum, who he said has spent much of his adult life in custody. He said it's Baum's way of life, more time behind bars as his punishment is not enough.
"It's not what we were wanting from the beginning, but it's the best we've good and it's good. So we'll settle with that," Powell said after the verdict was read.
He said he felt happy as the list of guilty verdicts were read by the judge.
Davis said family members fought to get Leavitt to file charges that could lead to a death penalty, and he did. But two years later, Leavitt took that possibility away.
"These kids were worth that," Davis said. "(Leavitt) took it from us. He took it from the kids."