Death penalty no longer sought for Utah man charged with murdering couple

Local News

PROVO, Utah (ABC4) – A man recently sentenced to death for the murders of a young couple in 2018 will no longer face that fate. This comes as Utah County Attorney David Leavitt reverses course on capital punishment.

On Wednesday, Leavitt released a statement saying “it’s time to change course” and he will no longer seek the death penalty. He because the first Utah County attorney to seek the death penalty since 1984 when he took such action against Jerrod Baum.

“Seeking the death penalty seemed the right decision at the time. Upon further reflection, I am convinced that its costs far outweigh its benefits to the community as a whole. My responsibility is to all victims. The resources that I’ve committed to seeking the death penalty have limited this office’s ability to assist and care for victims of other crimes.”

Leavitt adds he believes the death penalty will never be carried out again in Utah, and “nor should it.”

“It’s time to change course. There’s a better route, and we’re going to seek it. There is no shame in admitting the need to change once we become aware of it. The only shame is if we choose to shrink from the challenge to move forward,” Leavitt says. “Today, I announce that as the Utah County Attorney, I will no longer seek the death penalty.”

On Tuesday, Leavitt filed a withdrawal of intent to seek the death penalty against Jerrod Baum.

In December 2017, 18-year-old Riley Powell and 17-year-old Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson went missing. In late May 2018, their bodies were found in an abandoned mine shaft near Eureka. Baum was arrested the next day.

Baum would go on to be charged with two counts of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, and desecration of a dead human body. He was also charged with one count of obstruction of justice and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person.

Charges say Baum was “operating under the belief that [Breezy] was pregnant, having offered to [her] and Riley his congratulations as they walked from the car to the open mine shaft.” Authorities say there is no proof Otteson was pregnant.

As ABC4’s Marcos Ortiz reports, the charges against Baum were based on the eye witness statements of Baum’s former girlfriend, Morgan Henderson.

“I heard Riley say ‘I’m dying’ and he was gurgling and that’s when I realized he wasn’t hitting him but stabbing him,” Henderson testified in a 2019 preliminary hearing.

In a recent court filing, Baum’s attorney claimed DNA was found on the bodies of the two teens and it belonged to two unidentified individuals. The defense also conducted an oculomotor deception exam, which tests eyes. In the court filing, Baum’s attorney claimed he passed with a 95% test result. For more on these findings, read here.

Before these findings, Baum’s trial had been dragging out, causing frustration for the families of the murder victims.

“It’s a strain because all we want is to seek justice,” says Amanda Hunt, Breezy’s aunt, in a 2020 Justice Files report.  “We feel like it’s inundated with extensions and it needs to go on longer right? We just want to go to trial.”

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