Family members of Riley Powell and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson wept and hugged one another Friday as the girlfriend of a man accused of killing the two teenagers pleaded guilty to lying during the murder investigation.
Facing 30 counts of obstruction of justice, Morgan Henderson, 35, of Mammoth, cried quietly sitting in the jury box on Friday as she listened to statements from the family members.
“There are no words to describe the way that I feel,” said Amanda Hunt, the aunt of Brelynne Otteson, as she brushed away her own tears. “Morgan deprived us of the closure we desperately needed and wanted.”
Henderson pleaded guilty to 10 counts of obstruction of justice, all second-degree felonies. The additional 20 counts were dismissed as part of a plea deal.
Henderson will serve three years in jail or until the case against Jerrod Baum, 41, the man accused of murdering the two teenagers, is resolved. She was also sentenced to five years on probation starting on the day of her sentencing.
Judge Christine Johnson sentenced Henderson in 4th District Court in Provo in accordance with the agreement made between defense attorney Spencer Thomas and Deputy Utah County attorney Chad Grunander.
In exchange for the plea deal, Henderson agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the continuing investigation and court case against Baum. The cooperation includes consulting with investigators, testifying truthfully in court and divulging any information about Baum or the murders.
“For myself, it’s that step that we need to move forward,” Hunt said after the sentencing. “This is a win for us because we have closure. She’s agreed to move forward with that and that’s what we need. In a way, she’s an ally to get to Jared.”
Brelynne Otteson’s older sister, Kylysta Otteson, 19, also spoke at the sentencing, recounting in tears the loss of her mother, aunt, grandmother, childhood dog and now her sister during the past six years.
“I feel like I have lost a big part of my heart,” she said. “Breezy was my best friend, my sister and my comforter. I love Breezy more than I need air. She is greatly missed every day.”
Riley Powell’s father, Bill Powell, and his younger sister, Nikka Powell, 18, agreed they were not going to give up in pursuing justice against Baum.
“We’ve got a long road ahead of us, and so we have to keep plugging along and get it done, no matter how long it takes,” Bill Powell said.
Henderson was initially charged with only two counts of obstruction of justice. The additional 28 charges were filed July 9, one day before Henderson appeared in court for a preliminary hearing.
According to court records, she was the girlfriend of Baum at the time he was charged with the murder of Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne Otteson, 17, who went missing at the beginning of January.
She admitted to lying in three police interviews after Baum reportedly stabbed two Eureka teenagers and threw their bodies in an abandoned mine shaft, according to sentencing documents.
Henderson’s honest and truthful testimony is key in the prosecution against Baum, Grunander explained.
“We didn’t have anything, really, with respect to this case and the investigation until she came forward. She’s an important part of this,” he said.
Powell and Otteson were last heard from on Dec. 29 while traveling together to Eureka, according to court documents. Their bodies were found almost three months later in an abandoned mine shaft near Eureka.
“We searched for three months for those children,” Hunt said with emotion. “Breezy doesn’t get to graduate high school. She doesn’t get to go to prom, she doesn’t get to walk down the aisle, she doesn’t get to dance again.”
Henderson led investigators in Sanpete County to the mine after she said she had withheld knowledge of what happened.
She also told police she had been present in December when Baum murdered the teenagers at the mouth of the mine.
According to court documents, Henderson changed her story several times during interviews with police on Jan. 9, 25 and 30.
When confronted with evidence that Powell had sent Facebook messages to Henderson saying he would be at her house on Dec. 30, Henderson told detectives he never arrived, according to a police report.
She later changed her story, saying Powell had arrived, stayed for a short time and left.
According to the sentencing agreement, Henderson did not intend to or intentionally assist Baum in murdering the two teenagers.
“To the family and loved ones of Breezy and Riley, I’m sorry for your profound loss and all the pain you are going through because of me,” she said in court on Friday. “I’m sorry that I lied to the cops. I should’ve turned Jared in a long time ago.”
If she breaks the terms of the plea deal or her probation, Henderson would serve one to 15 years in prison for each consecutive charge of obstruction of justice, or potentially almost 150 years in prison.
Henderson will be housed in a different jail during her three-year sentence to prevent any contact with Baum, who is being held at the Utah County Jail, Grunander said.
She was also granted credit for time served since her arrest on March 30.
“Ultimately, this is a good step for everyone,” Thomas said. “She wanted to contribute to this case, she wanted to give some closure to this family.”
Baum reportedly killed the teens out of jealousy, according to court records. He was arrested and booked into Utah County Jail in March on multiple felony charges, including two charges of aggravated kidnapping and two charges of aggravated murder, both first-degree felonies.
He is potentially facing the death penalty, court records state.