Lying to Police Results in Felony Obstruction of Justice Charges

A Utah woman arrested for felony obstruction of justice for initially lying to police about teens’ deaths in Utah.

Lying to police

Photo by: Carmello Fernando

34 year old Morgan Reannon Henderson of Mammoth, Utah was arrested on felony charges of obstruction of justice after she finally released information regarding two Utah teens who had been missing for nearly three months. Henderson was questioned twice early on in the investigation of the teen’s disappearance but was dishonest in her response to investigators. It wasn’t until Henderson was arrested for drugs and weapon charges that she told the truth about the night the teens went missing. The whereabouts of 17 year old “Breezy” Otteson and 18 year old Riley Powell remained unknown to the teens’ families or authorities until Henderson eventually told police her live in boyfriend, Jerrod William Baum was responsible for the death of both teens. She then led them to the location of the bodies and Baum was arrested for aggravated murder.

Obstruction of Justice

Henderson admitted to police that the teens had been at her when Baum became upset at the visitors and tied them up. She saw Baum kill the teens before dumping their bodies in an abandoned mine. She then assisted Baum in hiding their vehicle while he also stashed their personal belongings. Utah Code 76-8-306 states: “An actor commits obstruction of justice if the actor, with intent to hinder, delay, or prevent the investigation, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of any person regarding conduct that constitutes a criminal offense:

(a)provides any person with a weapon;
(b) prevents by force, intimidation, or deception, any person from performing any act that might aid in the discovery, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of any person;
(c) alters, destroys, conceals, or removes any item or other thing;
(d) makes, presents, or uses any item or thing known by the actor to be false;
(e) harbors or conceals a person;
(f) provides a person with transportation, disguise, or other means of avoiding discovery or apprehension;
(g) warns any person of impending discovery or apprehension;
(h) warns any person of an order authorizing the interception of wire communications or of a pending application for an order authorizing the interception of wire communications;
(i) conceals information that is not privileged and that concerns the offense, after a judge or magistrate has ordered the actor to provide the information; or
(j) provides false information regarding a suspect, a witness, the conduct constituting an offense, or any other material aspect of the investigation.”

Since Henderson helped dispose of evidence and withheld information that would have led to the arrest of her boyfriend and recovery of the two teens, she was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice. Section 76-8-306 goes on to note that “Obstruction of justice is a second degree felony if the conduct which constitutes an offense would be a capital felony or first degree felony [such as murder]”. Each second degree felony is punishable by one to 15 years in prison.

A fearful choice?

Photo by: cvmz22

Although Henderson should have been upfront with authorities during her initial questioning, there is a possibility she chose to lie out of fear for her own safety. Baum had allegedly killed the teens to punish Henderson for allowing another male in the house while Baum was gone. If Baum was capable of such a heinous act, it would be reasonable to assume Henderson may be terrified to speak out against him. The fact that he threatened her life would have cemented that fear of telling the truth. It wasn’t until she was safe behind bars for another crime that she might have felt safe enough to share the truth. For that reason, lying to police or otherwise obstructing justice would have seemed the only choice to guarantee she was protected from harm. For those who are facing charges stemming from fear of domestic violence, contact a reputable criminal defense attorney. Those living in a situation where they are fearful for their safety or the safety of their family members are encouraged to call The National Domestic Violence at 1-800-799-7233.

Utah Women Arrested for Attempting to Traffic Meth over Southern Utah Border

Two separate incidents within a single week of December have ended in officers arresting multiple women for attempting to traffic meth over the southern Utah border near St. George.

I-15 drug corridor

Photo by: Nancy

I-15 is known as a drug corridor which is evident in two similar cases that happened south of St. George, Utah last month. In one incident, 43 year old Tara Evans of Annabella Utah was stopped for traffic violations in Mesquite Nevada, located about 30 miles south of the Utah border. A search of the vehicle Evans was driving turned up over four ounces of methamphetamine. Although she was only in possession of around four ounces of methamphetamine, she was charged by Nevada law as trafficking a controlled substance. This could be due to her admitting she brought the drugs with her over the border or the charging officer assuming that was the case.

Drug run to Nevada

In another incident that same week, two women from southern Utah were arrested shortly after passing through Mesquite Nevada and crossing back over the border into Utah. A search of that vehicle occupied by 30 year old Ashley Marie Harmer and 21 year old Mackenzie Lee Clark turned up multiple large wrapped packages of methamphetamine along with other instruments used to sell the substance. Harmer and Clark admitted to traveling to Nevada to obtain the drugs to transport back into the state of Utah.

Drug charges in two states

All three women are facing felony drug charges. Evans was arrested in Nevada and faces felony charges for drug trafficking there. Harmer and Clark were arrested in Utah for possession of meth with the intent to distribute. Since Clark is a first time offender, she faces third degree felony charges while Harmer faces first degree charges since this is not her first rodeo with drug trafficking and distribution. While all three women are facing charges in the state they were arrested in, it is possible they could face federal drug trafficking charges as well since they crossed over state lines while in possession of a controlled substance. Whether facing state or federal penalties, anyone facing drug charges are encouraged to refrain from admitting anything to authorities and seeking appropriate legal counsel immediately.

Reduce the Risk of Additional Charges Following an Arrest

When someone is placed under arrest, they are booked under specific charges pertaining to that arrest. Just as the individuals arrested can fight to have charges reduced or dropped, there is also the chance that extra charges can be added following the arrest.

Failure to comply with arrest and booking

Photo by: Campaign Against Arms Trade

One main cause of added charges following an arrest is due to the behavior of the alleged offender during the time of being arrested and placed behind bars. Being handcuffed and whisked off to jail is a stressful moment that can unfortunately bring out the worst in people. Some individuals make a bad situation worse by:

• Resisting arrest or as Utah Code 76-8-305 states “refusing to perform any act required by lawful order necessary to effect the arrest or detention (…) made by a peace officer”, a class B misdemeanor;
• Attempting to flee police, a class A misdemeanor;
Spitting, urinating, or propelling any bodily fluid at an officer, potentially adding a third degree felony onto the list of charges;
• Physically assaulting an officer while in the custody of law enforcement, a third degree felony defined by section 76-5-102.5. If the charges are enhanced to aggravated assault by a prisoner, then the defendant may face an additional second or first degree felony as stated in 76-5-103.5; or
• Once at the local jail, kicking, punching, or otherwise damaging jail property, resulting in an added third degree felony.

Regardless of whether or not the arrestee feels they should be taken into police custody, they are encouraged to be respectful and cooperative during and after being read their Miranda rights. This does not mean they have to converse with officers regarding details of the arrest however, as that in itself can lead to added charges.

Spilling all the beans

Photo by: Emilio Küffer

While there are some who react vehemently to being placed under arrest, there are others who go too far the other direction by trying to be overly compliant to officers on the scene. In an effort to possibly smooth things over, some arrestees decide to share every single detail related to the charges. Not only can their over-the-top candor cement the charges against that individual, it can help investigators who may already be trying to tie other charges to the defendant. It is best to politely decline any discussion with officers until an attorney is present.

Accumulating charges prior to trial

Another way charges can be added is if more evidence comes to light or if the prosecution attempts to add or enhance charges. For example, if a person is arrested for possession of marijuana, the prosecution could look at the amount of marijuana in question, and attempt to call it enough to charge the defendant with intent to distribute, even if it was initially determined to be only for personal use. If the person drove through a school zone with the marijuana in their car, the prosecution could also add enhanced possession in a school zone charges. Maybe they had kids in the home or car, so by all means throw in some child abuse or child neglect charges on top. Also known as stacking charges, this is a common occurrence and a reason so many individuals get scared into accepting plea deals (a.k.a. pleading guilty to lesser charges) without first obtaining proper counsel for themselves.

Have an attorney ready

Photo by: Kevin Johnston

With so many variables working against someone following an arrest, the best plan to avoid additional charges is to:

• remain calm;
• be prepared with the name of a reputable attorney;
• give the defense attorney’s name to authorities during the arrest;
• Stay quiet until advised otherwise by counsel; and finally
• Trust that a knowledgeable attorney will be able to see through charge stacking to decide the best option possible for each defendant depending on their specific case.