A Nebraska mother was sentenced to two years in prison on Sept. 22 for giving her teenage daughter an illegal medication abortion and then burning and burying the baby’s remains.
Jessica Burgess, 42, of Norfolk, entered a plea agreement in July under which she admitted to tampering with human skeletal remains, false reporting, and providing an abortion after 20 weeks gestation.
On Sept. 22, Madison County District Judge Mark Johnson sentenced her to one year in prison for each count, with the first two sentences running concurrently. The year for providing an illegal abortion will follow, resulting in a two-year sentence.
The judge, according to online court records, found her unsuitable for probation.
Ms. Burgess’s daughter, Celeste Burgess, was just 17 years old when she and her mother hatched the plan to abort her baby at 29 weeks gestation, well into her third trimester.
According to Madison County District Court documents, her mother ordered the abortion pills online and then instructed her how to take them.
The Food and Drug Administration has only approved abortion pills for use within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
After the child was dead, the pair tried to burn the body before ultimately burying it in a field north of Norfolk.
The elder Burgess’s sentencing follows her daughter’s release from the Madison County Jail earlier this month after serving more than half of her 90-day sentence. She was also sentenced to two years of probation.
Ms. Celeste Burgess, now 19, was sentenced in July after pleading guilty to removing, concealing, or abandoning a dead body.
Under the terms of her plea deal, charges of false reporting and concealing the death of another person were dismissed.
A third individual, Tanner Barnhill, was charged in the case for helping the Burgesses to bury the child’s remains on his parents’ property.
‘We Burn the Evidence’Court records reveal that police were tipped off in April 2022 that Ms. Celeste Burgess had buried a “stillborn” child the week before.
When questioned by investigators, the teen said that she had given birth to a stillborn baby and that she and her mother had placed the body in a plastic bag in the back of their van before burying it.
They led investigators to the burial site, where the corpse was exhumed and observed to show signs of “thermal injuries.”
Upon questioning, Mr. Barnhill confirmed that the mother and daughter had tried to burn the body before burying it.
Authorities also later learned that the child’s body had been buried and dug up in two other locations before it was moved to the Barnhill property.
After an inconclusive autopsy, police sought a warrant to access the Burgess’s Facebook accounts. There, they discovered messages between the two detailing their abortion plans.
In one message, an officer reported that Celeste Burgess talked about “how she can’t wait to get that ‘thing’ out of her body.” In another, she reportedly wrote: “Remember we burn the evidence.”
Abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy has been illegal in Nebraska since 2010. Earlier this year, the state tightened its restrictions, outlawing the procedure after 12 weeks gestation, save for cases involving rape, incest, or medical emergencies.
The new law, enacted in May, also bans “gender-altering procedures” for those under age 19, though that provision won’t take effect until Oct. 1.
While the law has been challenged in court, its provisions will remain in effect for now after the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected a request for a preliminary injunction last week.