The Justice Files: Hiding bodies in a mineshaft

Justice Files
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PROVO Utah (ABC4 Utah) – Accused killer Jerrod Baum may have tipped his hand to a jail inmate.

Baum is facing capital murder charges for the deaths of two teens in late 2017.  The bodies of Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson and Riley Powell were found months later in a mine shaft near Eureka.  An autopsy showed they had been stabbed multiple times.

Baum was charged with their murders after his former girlfriend pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.  During Baum’s preliminary hearing Morgan Henderson claimed she witnessed Baum stab the teens and dump their bodies into a mineshaft.  His trial is scheduled next year.

But recent motions by the defense include an attempt to prevent the testimony of Billy Jack Knecht.  A recent hearing offered insight as to why Baum’s attorneys don’t want him to testify.  

During a recent hearing in Utah County to determine if he will be part of the trial, Knecht testified about his relationship with Baum. He said they were inmates at the Weber County jail in 2017 when he struck up a conversation with Baum.

“We were watching like, a true crime TV show,” Knecht said under oath.  “And it was just the hypothetical conversation, like, if you ever killed someone, where would you stuff the bodies?”

A deputy Utah County attorney was questioning Baum and wanted to know about their conversation.

“He said he would hide them in a mineshaft,” Knecht said.  “He said where he lived there were a lot of abandoned mine shafts.”

Knecht testified Baum’s conversation didn’t go beyond that and they never spoke about that again.  It wasn’t until the following year when Baum was arrested that his memory was jarred. 

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Knecht.  “I was surprised and then that conversation came back in my head and I go to my girlfriend like ‘holy cow.'”

He said he notified a detective that was investigating the case.  At first there was little interest according to Knecht.  But months later he was notified that he would be subpoenaed by the county attorney.

Baum’s attorneys focused on the fact that it was a hypothetical conversation.  Knecht agreed.  They also appear to be questioning his credibility.  He was convicted of possessing child pornography and is currently on Utah’s sex offender registry.  He is now on probation.  But Knecht said there is no offer of receiving favorable treatment in exchange for his testimony.

Kent Morgan is a former prosecutor and now a criminal attorney.  He said Baum’s attorneys should be concerned because Knecht’s testimony could sway a jury.

“I think the prosecution would be arguing that his statements are consistent with what happened in the case he’s now charged with, that the bodies are buried in a mineshaft,” said Morgan.  “The other thing the prosecutor will argue is people say things in hypotheticals all the time.  But the inference can be drawn from the statement that that’s what the person would do.”

Baum’s alleged statements are eerily similar to those of Josh Powell.  He’s accused of murdering his wife Susan Cox Powell in 2009.  Back then, ABC4 interviewed a friend of Powell.  The friend claimed he had a conversation with Powell about committing the perfect crime.  The friend told ABC4 Powell said throwing a body in a mineshaft is the perfect way to hide a body.  Authorities in West Valley as well as private search groups did focus on searching abandoned mines in western Utah but could never find Susan’s body.

The judge has yet to rule whether Billy Knecht’s testimony will be allowed during the trial.  

Meanwhile, Baum’s attorneys are also seeking to discredit Henderson’s testimony.  Another evidentiary hearing will be held in October.  The defense plans to call on a number of witnesses aimed at targeting Henderson’s honesty.

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