Emotional, grisly testimony during the first day of Jerrod Baum murder trial, ex-girlfriend testifies against him
Mar 7, 2022, 7:13 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:21 am
(Breezy Otteson and Riley Powell. Photo Credit: Tooele County Sheriff's Office)
PROVO, Utah — The first day of the Jerrod Baum murder trial wrapped up with grisly testimony from his ex-girlfriend and key witness in the case. She paints Baum as a very dangerous man, but his defense attorneys say her statements can’t be trusted.
Prosecutors are charging Baum with first degree murder for the deaths of Riley Powell and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson. They say Baum beat and kidnapped the couple after they visited his then-girlfriend, Morgan Lewis Henderson. Investigators believe Baum forced Henderson and Otteson to watch as he severely beat and stabbed Powell, then pushed his body down the Tintic Standard Mine.
Key witness takes the stand at the Baum murder trial
Henderson took the stand on the first day of testimony, explaining why she reportedly covered for Baum after the couple disappeared. She testified that, before this, she was growing tired of living with Baum and becoming more defiant, until he reportedly forced her to go through a blood ritual to “bring them closer.” She said Baum took a knife and left a large gash on her arm. She claimed he told her he would do it again, if she ever left.
“That night, I figured out what I was dealing with and who I was dealing with. I was in way over my head and this person was extremely dangerous,” Henderson said. “I was not defiant anymore, I decided that it was best if I just do what he wants.”
She said she ran into Powell at a gas station and spoke with him over Facebook messenger, despite Baum not allowing her to have male friends. When Baum left to visit family members, Henderson invited Powell and Otteson to visit, knowing Baum would not approve. She said, somehow, Baum found out and was furious when he came home later that night.
“I knew I was in big trouble. He was angry, and I knew he knew what I did,” she said. “I knew that this was really bad, and I didn’t know what was going to happen or what to do.”
Henderson said she could feel “violence in the air” as she approached Powell’s Jeep, knowing something was wrong. Then, she said she could see two people in the back cargo area, bound with duct tape.
“He went to the back of the car… of the Jeep, and I could see that Riley and Breezy were tied up,” she said.
Henderson testified Baum forced her to take a drive in Powell’s Jeep. That’s when attorneys decided to stop testimony for the day. Henderson is expected to resume testimony Tuesday morning.
Baum’s attorneys say Henderson’s statements are unreliable
During their opening statements, Baum’s defense team told the jury he was not guilty of the murders of Powell or Otteson. They said prosecutors relied too heavily on Henderson’s statement to build their case.
Attorney Dallas Young said, “They rushed in before they finished doing their homework. The result of this is that Mr. Baum is now facing charges for something he didn’t do.”
Young says Henderson’s testimony doesn’t match what forensic evidence shows, and that her statements could not be trusted.
“At the same time as they charged Jerrod Baum, roughly, they also charged Morgan Henderson with obstruction of justice. Obstruction of justice is lying to officers who are investigating a case,” Young said. “It’s not just one count. It’s not just two counts. At one point she was facing 30… 3-0… counts of obstruction.”
Prosecutors say Baum was abusive
Prosecutors countered by saying Baum was so abusive, Henderson was too frightened to leave or openly defy him. Attorney Ryan McBride said Baum threatened to kill Henderson and her son if she spoke with police.
“Over the next several days, and weeks, the defendant told Morgan, ‘Remember, this is your fault. You’re the one that had them over here,’” McBride said.
KSL.com reports Henderson claimed she felt “tremendous guilt” when she was arrested for drug and weapons charges in March 2018 and told investigators where they could find the bodies.