A Nebraska woman’s role in the termination, destruction and concealment of her daughter’s unborn child landed her with time behind bars.
“…that you would treat it like yesterday’s trash…”
Nearly a year-and-a-half after 42-year-old Jessica Burgess had provided her then-17-year-old daughter Celeste with abortion pills, Madison County District Judge Mark A. Johnson handed down her sentence Friday, eight times longer than that of her child.
Having pled guilty to tampering with human remains, false reporting and providing an abortion after 20 weeks, Burgess was sentenced to two concurrent sentences of one year in prison after her daughter had been handed a 90-day jail sentence with two years of probation.
The teen had been 29 weeks along in her pregnancy when Burgess had ordered “Pregnot” abortion pills from eBay, the Norfolk Daily News specified, and instructed her daughter to take them. After her grandson was delivered stillborn, his remains were set on fire in a field in addition to being buried and relocated multiple times.
“I shudder to think, Ms. Burgess, that you have such a disrespect for a — call it a human fetus, call it a stillborn child — that you would treat it like yesterday’s trash and not give it some respect in its treatment and disposal,” the judge said during the sentencing hearing.
“Our society expects more,” he added, “it demands more.”
Madison County attorney Joseph Smith had said of Burgess, “This defendant actually gave these drugs to her own daughter. The defense lawyer did a good job avoiding a child abuse case.” As of Sept. 11, the younger Burgess had completed her jail sentence and was present in the courtroom as her mother was escorted away in handcuffs, the Daily News reported.
Facebook messages reviewed during the investigation after a warrant was obtained found that the expectant mother’s priorities circled around fashion and not her or her unborn child’s health: “I will finally be able to wear jeans.”
“This was something that should have been handled differently. Everybody participated in things and saw things they shouldn’t have ever done and never have seen,” Smith told the media after the sentencing.
Beforehand, Johnson had ordered Burgess to undergo a psychological evaluation at her attorney’s request. However, that order was rescinded due to “lack of funding,” court documents indicated.
The sentencing of both Burgess women was not reflective of the overturning of Roe v. Wade as the ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization had not been handed down until June 2022, two months after the abortion had taken place in April of that year.
Since then, Nebraska legislators have attempted to enact a six-week ban on abortions but only managed to pass a 12-week ban as an amendment to a bill meant to protect minors from genital mutilation and chemical castration procedures. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the legitimacy of the law in court because of a state constitutional requirement that legislation pertain to a single subject.
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