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The Sanpete Messenger

Outstanding investigation

Det. Jeff Hansen (left), Det. Sgt. Chad Nielson, Det. Mike Nielson, Det. Derick Taysom and Commander Tyler Johnson, all of the Sanpete-Juab Major Crimes Task Force, were honored Monday for their role in solving the murders of two Juab County teens. On the far right is Sheriff Brian Nielson, who presented the awards.

Outstanding investigation

 

Sheriff recognizes lawmen for
bringing “light and truth” to the world

 

By Suzanne Dean

Publisher

Apr. 19, 2018

 

MANTI—Five officers from the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office were recognized Monday for the outstanding investigative work they do every day, and particularly, for their role in helping solve the murders of two teens from Juab County.

Sheriff Brian Nielson presented the Lux et Veritas award to Commander Tyler Johnson, Det. Sgt. Chad Nielson, Det. Jeff Hansen, Det. Mike Nielson and Det. Derick Taysom, all Sanpete County members of the Sanpete-Juab Major Crimes Task Force.

Lux et Veritas is Latin for “light and truth.” Various organizations, including Yale University, use the term as a motto.

“And that’s what these guys have done in their work, brought light and truth to families, to friends and to the world,” Sheriff Nielson said at a Sheriff’s Office ceremony attended by the media and families of the officers.

Since December, the five officers have put in about 2,500 hours, Nielson said. That number, divided by five, translates to “a lot of 16, 18, 20-hour days away from home, away from family, day after day.”

He thanked the families for their support. Then he lauded the officers again. “They’re amazing,” he said. “They do amazing work.”

The officers were mainly recognized for a case that started Dec. 30, 2017 when two teenagers, Riley Powell, 18, and his girlfriend, Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, 17, drove from their home in Eureka, Juab County, to Tooele to visit some friends. They never came home.

Because they were last seen in Tooele County, the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office started out as the lead agency.

But on Jan. 11, search-and-rescue volunteers found the Jeep Cherokee the teens had been driving hidden in trees near Cherry Creek Reservoir in Juab County, about 25 miles due west of Mona. There were no signs of Riley and Breezy.

By then, Sanpete-Juab Task Force officers were already looking into foul play. They obtained Riley’s Facebook records and found that on the night the two disappeared, Riley sent a message to Morgan Lewis Henderson, 34, who lived in Mammoth, a semi-ghost town in Juab County near the Utah and Tooele county lines. The message said Riley and Breezy were headed to Morgan Henderson’s house.

Then task force officers discovered Henderson lived with Jerrod William Baum, 41, who had a long criminal record. When he was 15, he had been charged with attempted murder when he committed an armed robbery of a Burger King in Orem, and in the process, shot at two employees.

On Jan. 9, task force officers interviewed both Henderson and Baum but didn’t get any useful information. On Jan. 25, officers interviewed Henderson by herself. She admitted that Riley and Breezy had stopped at her house the night they went missing. But she said they had only stayed for 40 minutes, and she said she didn’t know what happened to them after that.

The big break in the case came March 24 when a Sanpete County deputy pulled over a car for speeding on the “west road,” a dirt road west of Manti. The driver was Morgan Henderson.

An alert Sanpete County dispatcher let the deputy know Henderson was a person of interest in the Powell-Otteson disappearance. The deputy searched the vehicle; found firearms, knives and drugs; and arrested Henderson.

Following the arrest, Sanpete and Juab officers, including task force officers, interrogated Henderson. Ultimately, she led officers to the area where she and Baum were living and where evidence appeared to have been burned. During the trip, she admitted witnessing Baum kill the two teens with a knife. She also admitted driving the Jeep Cherokee to the reservoir area and ditching it.

Finally, Henderson led officers to the Tintic Standard Mine No. 2, also known as the Eureka Lilly Mine, which is 3-5 miles inside the Utah County border. She told officers she believed Baum had put the bodies of the teens down the mine shaft. A camera search found the bodies about 100 feet down. The bodies were recovered on March 28.

At the awards ceremony, Sheriff Nielson said the case, which has been passed off to Utah County authorities, would never have been solved “without the five guys standing here.”

“I think it’s important to remember the victims and the people who were left behind in this tragic event,” the sheriff said. “But we also need to celebrate and honor the work that these guys put in,” including sacrifices in their home life.

Commander Johnson, who heads the Sanpete-Juab task force, said, “Everybody brought something to the table that brought a positive resolution to this case.”

“We have a good team,” Det. Derick Taysom said. “The dedication that everybody puts in, as a cohesive unit, we’re able to get big things done and small things done. The same dedication I see from the team on the big things, we’re also putting in on the small things, and that’s where it matters.”

During December, the same Sheriff’s Office team helped locate four children of John Coltharp, who had been kidnapped from Spring City and taken to a polygamist settlement in Iron County. And according to a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, the same group is close to wrapping up an investigation of trespass onto turkey farms by members of an animal rights group.