The fate of the man accused of killing two teenagers and dumping their bodies in an abandoned mine last year will ultimately be decided by a jury trial.
Utah County Attorney David Leavitt announced Wednesday he wants a jury to decide whether Jerrod Baum, 42, will face the death penalty in his pending trial.
“The alleged killer of Riley and Breezy is the sort of individual from whom society ought to be protected,” he said during a press conference. “That’s a weight that I feel as a Utah County Attorney as I weigh how do we do that.”
Leavitt stated he doesn’t want the power of life or death to be decided by a lone elected official. Instead, he will not take the penalty off the table but instead allow a jury trial to decide whether or not to sentence Baum to death.
Baum, 42, is facing two counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of 18-year-old Riley Powell and 17-year-old Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, who went missing in December 2017.
The bodies of the two teenagers were found three months later in an abandoned mine near Eureka. Autopsy reports showed the teenagers had been stabbed and died by homicide.
If Baum is convicted and the jury refuses to pursue the death penalty, each aggravated murder carries a minimum of 25 years to life.
“If pulling a trigger or injecting a needle would bring Breezy or Riley back, I would do so personally,” Leavitt said. “Ultimately, all of the debates and the perspectives of the death penalty flow down in my mind to what will protect the public safety.”
He explained he believes the criminal justice system is in peril partly because of the movement toward plea deals and away from jury trials.
“I’m going to give power back to people in the form of juries,” Leavitt said. “It is the jury’s role, it is the people’s role, to determine the guilt or innocence of this alleged killer.”
Family members said they are ready to fight for as long as it takes to ensure the death penalty against Baum.
“These kids didn’t get to chose their life. They didn’t get a fight. Why should he get an option?” said Amanda Hunt, an aunt to Breezy Otteson.
“We have to leave it up to society to decide the final outcome. That’s just part of the system,” added Bill Powell, Riley’s father.
Baum is also charged in 4th District Court with two counts of aggravated kidnapping, both first-degree felonies; obstructing justice, a second-degree felony; and two counts of desecration of a dead human body and one count of possession of a weapon by a restricted person, each third-degree felonies.
He reportedly killed the teenagers out of jealousy that his ex-girlfriend, Morgan Henderson, had a male visitor in their house. She testified against him and shared many details about the deaths during a preliminary hearing in March.
The next court hearing is set for Aug. 12, as Judge Derek Pullan plans to establish a timeline to trial.