PROVO, Utah — The families of two murder victims said they’re furious and heartbroken with the Utah County Attorney after he announced he will no longer pursue the death penalty.
In a video statement released Wednesday, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt announced he will not pursue the death penalty in any case that comes to his office. Innocent people have been executed, he said. The death penalty has never proven to be a significant deterrent in preventing murders, he said.
“Pretending that the death penalty will somehow curb crime is simply a lie,” Leavitt said.
Family wants Utah County death penalty
The families of Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson and Riley Powell believe the prosecutor is putting his personal beliefs ahead of the needs of victims and their loved ones.
The Eureka couple was reportedly killed by Jerrod Baum, who is accused of beating and stabbing Powell and slitting Otteson’s throat as they were tied up. Baum then reportedly dumped their bodies in an abandoned mine.
Riley’s father, Bill Powell, said the announcement from Leavitt is a broken promise. In 2019, Leavitt held a press conference saying he would pursue the death penalty if Baum was convicted of their murders. He said Leavitt even visited the families at their homes and reassured them.
To Powell, this morning’s announcement feels like a “sucker punch.”
“We knew then he was against the death penalty and he showed up to our houses [and promised to pursue it,]” Powell said.
“He doesn’t care about the kids, he was just trying to make himself look good.”
No meaningful consequences for deaths
With the death penalty off the table, Powell believes Baum won’t face any significant consequences for the murders, even if he is convicted.
“If he gets life in prison without parole, or whatever, he’ll just have free room and board, forever,” Powell said.
Otteson’s aunt, Amanda Davis, said they’ve been adamant and clear from the beginning. If he was found guilty they wanted Baum to get the death penalty. She believes Baum is perfectly content in prison, so life without parole doesn’t feel like a punishment.
“Taking the death penalty off the table makes it almost like he won. He got what he wanted,” she said.
Davis said she understands the appeals process can cost a lot of money. She respects the idea of using those funds to help victims. However, she believes removing capital punishment sends a terrible message to criminals.
“You can have a full life … get letters from your family … get pictures, you can talk, you can laugh. You can still do all those things that those kids will never be able to do,” Davis said.
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