Photographs of buried keys, smashed phones, duct tape, roofing nails, a carton of cigarettes and a small graduation key ring were among the evidence presented on Thursday in the case against a man charged with murdering two teenagers more than a year ago.
Prosecutors called two law enforcement detectives to the witness stand in 4th District Court to talk about what items were found during the investigation into the deaths of Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17.
The bodies of the two teenagers were found in March 2018 at the bottom of an abandoned mine near Eureka. Autopsy reports showed the teenagers had been stabbed and died by homicide.
“We’ve been out there multiple times, we’ve been at the mine,” said Amanda Hunt, the aunt of Otteson. “To finally put into context the entire picture is really cumbersome.”
Jerrod Baum, 42, was charged soon after with two counts of aggravated murder. He appeared in the courtroom in shackles and the same jail jumpsuit he wore during the first part of the preliminary hearing on Wednesday.
The families hope that Baum would admit what really happened, but they expect the court case to last throughout the year.
“There are still a lot of questions for us that may never be answered,” Hunt said. “Every time we have to come here, he’s only imposing on our lives continually beyond losing our loved ones. We just want it to be done and justice to be served for the kids.”
“We’ll never have closure. We don’t have the kids back,” said Bill Powell, the father of Powell.
Detective Josh Chappell with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office described how investigators searched the enormous mine shaft using a sewer camera attached to a long cable.
“We were told that this mine was as deep as 1,800 feet,” he said. When the camera reached 100 feet below the surface, the investigators saw what appeared to be a body lying on a ledge.
“It appears he was covered in dirt and debris,” Chappell said. “We were able to identify that body as Riley Powell. When I saw it, as I described before, his arms were bound and tied behind his back.”
As the search continued, the camera moved to different angles and investigators found a second individual in the mine shaft about 20 feet further down.
“The hands were bound behind the back,” Chappell said. “I noticed there was steel duct tape matted or connected to her hair.”
Investigators roped off the gaping mine shaft to keep anyone from walking closer.
Detective Chad Nielson with the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office testified that investigators did not know where to find the evidence or the bodies without the help of Baum’s former girlfriend, Morgan Henderson.
“As we were going to that mine, she became visibly upset. There was a narrow spot in the road that goes to Standard No. 2,” he said. “When we approached it, she became visibly upset and started crying.”
Investigators visited a couple of abandoned mines in the area as Henderson, 35, had trouble remembering which one was the Tintic Standard No. 2.
She testified against Baum on Wednesday and shared intricate details of the reported murders. A video recording was played on Thursday showing how she assisted detectives in finding items Baum had reportedly hidden in areas near his home on the outskirts of Mammoth.
House and car keys belonging to Powell were buried in random dirt piles near a gravel pit, and other property like cellphones and roofing nails was hidden inside a barrel full of sludge in the same area, detectives testified.
The electronic items were later positively identified as belonging to Otteson and Powell, said Detective Josh Chappell with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.
The prosecuting and defense attorneys were ordered to file evidence briefing reports by the end of March.
Deputy county attorney Randy Kennard said there were many other facts yet to be revealed in the continuing court case.
“I think we did a good job,” Kennard said. “For a preliminary hearing, we presented sufficient evidence to show that there’s reasonable believe Jerrod Baum committed these murders.”