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.

Increased Charges for Repeated Violation of a Protective Order

A Spanish Fork, Utah man was arrested multiple times on a single day for repeated violations of a protective order.

Violation of a protective order

Photo by: Thrifty Look

35 year old Dustin Larsen of Spanish Fork was arrested for contacting a woman who had filed a protective order against him. Not only did Larsen disobey the command for no contact listed in the protective order, he violated that order more than 150 times. Police arrested Larsen, who later bailed out and continued to go against the court issued no-contact orders. He was arrested again that day on increased penalties.

Repeated violations

The woman on the other end of the protective order reported to police that Larsen had contacted her by phone, text, and even through social media. Each time Larsen tried to contact the woman was a violation of the protective order against him. Since he violated that order multiple times, he could face multiple counts of the same charge. According to Utah code 76-5-108, “Any person who is the respondent or defendant subject to a protective order . . . under [the Cohabitant Abuse Act, Juvenile Court Act or Domestic Violence Protection Orders Act]. . . who intentionally or knowingly violates that order after having been properly served, is guilty of a class A misdemeanor “.

Increased penalties

Photo by: Jesterx67

That section of Utah Code goes on the note that violation of one of the described orders “is a domestic violence offense . . . and subject to increased penalties in accordance with Section 77-36-1.1.” The aforementioned section explains that since Larsen was arrested for violation of a [domestic or cohabitant] protective order punishable as a class A misdemeanor, any subsequent arrest made within five years of that would have an increased charge of a third degree felony. Larsen went on to violate the protective order again the same day of his arrest and ended up being charged with the increased charges on his second trip of the day to the county jail.

Understanding court orders

Anyone who receives a court-issued protective order should read it carefully, perhaps with the help of an attorney to ensure they understand the document completely as well as what penalties they could face for violating that order. It is recommended that individuals facing criminal charges for violation of a protective order and other charges related to domestic violence seek counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.

Illegal Immigrants Who Are Victims of Crimes Eligible for Temporary Visa

Illegal immigrants who are victims of crime may be eligible for a temporary U Visa in order to help police make an arrest.

U Visa

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Many victims of crimes who are in the country illegally are afraid to come forward during an investigation for fear of being deported. The U Visa is a temporary visa, good for up to four years that is reserved to protect victims of crimes by ensuring the victims will not face deportation if they are able to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute their aggressors.

Eligibility requirements

According to the Department of Homeland Security, a person may be eligible for a U visa, otherwise known as U nonimmigrant visa, if they:

• “are the victim of qualifying criminal activity.
• have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity.
• have information about the criminal activity. If [they] are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may possess the information about the crime on your behalf (see glossary for definition of ‘next friend’).
• were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. If [they] are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may assist law enforcement on [their] behalf.
• The crime occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws.
• are admissible to the United States. If [they] are not admissible, [they] may apply for a waiver on a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant.”

Also listed by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are the ‘qualifying criminal activities” which are:

• Abduction
• Abusive Sexual Contact
• Blackmail
• Domestic Violence
• Extortion
• False Imprisonment
• Female Genital Mutilation
• Felonious Assault
• Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting
• Hostage
• Incest
• Involuntary Servitude
• Kidnapping
• Manslaughter
• Murder
• Obstruction of Justice
• Peonage
• Perjury
• Prostitution
• Rape
• Sexual Assault
• Sexual Exploitation
• Slave Trade
• Stalking
• Torture
• Trafficking
• Witness Tampering
• Unlawful Criminal Restraint
• Other Related Crimes*†”

Abuse of a well-intended program

While the U visa was created originally to help those who were victims of sex trafficking through the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, it is swelled into a free-for-all for any illegal immigrant willing to prosecute another person who has wronged them in order to be granted temporary citizenship. Otherwise minor offenses such as stalking, blackmail, and witness tampering are now qualifying criminal activities that can secure a victim a temporary citizenship. Those who are victims of more heinous crimes such as female genital mutilation, rape, and sex trafficking now have to fight for one of the 10,000 U visas granted annually.

Used ONLY if/when needed

Another concern over the U Visa program is the lack of a deadline between when a crime is committed and when a petition for a U visa is accepted. Victims of qualifying criminal activities can apply for a U Visa immediately after the crime or even over a decade later which was the case for Javier Flores Garcia of Philadelphia. Garcia and his brother were attacked by two other illegal immigrants, with Garcia and his brother suffering several stab wounds. The incident took place in 2004 yet Garcia did not apply for a U Visa and offer to help prosecute his assailants until 2016. Twelve years had passed, and Garcia only agreed to help police make a case against the two men when he himself was suddenly facing deportation.

Unfair tool to obtain a conviction

Although the U Visa has its place to help victims of crimes suffering from physical and mental abuse, many feel it is being overused and/or abused. Until the U Visa program is reexamined and revised to only help those who truly need it, its use in obtaining a conviction or rising a case from the dead should be strictly limited.