By Dave Andrusko
18-year-old Celeste Burgess was sentenced last week to concealing or abandoning a dead body—the body of her 30-week-old unborn baby which she buried three different times in addition to trying to burn the baby’s remains.
The northeastern Nebraska woman was sentenced to 90 days in jail and two years of probation for burning and burying the baby with her mother’s help. With time off for good behavior, she will spend 53 days in jail.
“Two other misdemeanor charges of false reporting and concealing the death of another person were dropped, in an agreement with prosecutors,” Margery S. Beck reported for the Associated Press.
Celeste Burgess used abortion pills long after the 10 weeks recommended by the FDA, according to prosecutors.
“The Court specifically finds that while probation is appropriate, confinement is necessary because without this confinement, it would depreciate the seriousness of the crime or promote disrespect for the law,” District Judge James Kube wrote.
Burgess and her mother Jessica Burgess were “accused of working together to end the pregnancy,” according to Beck. “The abortion, well into her third trimester, violated Nebraska law at the time that banned abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. Officials have said Jessica Burgess ordered abortion pills online, which she gave to her then-17-year-old daughter in the spring of 2022.”
Earlier this month the mother pleaded guilty “to providing an illegal abortion, false reporting and tampering with human skeletal remains. In exchange for her plea, charges of concealing the death of another person and abortion by someone other than a licensed physician were dismissed,” Beck reported.
According to Austin Svehla of the Norfolk Daily News
Burgess was charged last June after police learned that she was involved in the illegal burial of her baby in April 2022. She initially was charged in juvenile court but had her case transferred to district court last July.
Former Norfolk Police Detective Ben McBride said he began investigating the death and subsequent disposal of the remains on April 26, 2022. One of Celeste Burgess’ co-workers notified a Nebraska State Patrol trooper that Burgess, a day earlier, had discussed having experienced a miscarriage and needing to “dig the body up and burn the baby’s body.”
Testimony from McBride last June revealed that Jessica Burgess ordered “Pregnot” pills on eBay in March 2022 — pills that would allow her daughter to terminate her pregnancy.
The Burgesses then enacted a plan to bury the remains at a rural location north of Norfolk. Evidence at Jessica Burgess’ preliminary hearing last year indicated that the mother and daughter buried the remains three different times and also attempted to burn the remains after the second exhumation.
Beck reported that a Norfolk police detective opened an investigation following a tip, according to an arrest affidavit.
Police secured a search warrant to gain access to Facebook messages between the two, in which prosecutors say the women discussed terminating the pregnancy and destroying the evidence. Police then found the burned fetal remains buried in a field north of Norfolk.
In one of the Facebook messages, Jessica Burgess instructed her daughter on how to take the pills to end the pregnancy, according to court records. In another, Celeste Burgess wrote, “I will finally be able to wear jeans,” according to the documents.
Madison County Attorney Joe Smith detailed text messages sent by Burgess.
“And it was clear, Smith said, that Burgess wasn’t tricked into taking the Pregnot pills,” according to Austin Svehla.
She knew full well what she was doing, having sent messages about receiving the pills and taking them, telling her mother, “It’s happening now.”
With regard to the disposal of the remains, Smith said it was a “terrible thing for everybody, especially the (deceased) boy.”
Judge Kube, “who described the case as difficult,” said “And maybe that’s why it’s especially concerning to a lot of people. It wasn’t just a wrong decision, it was a wrong decision that involves human life, or at least the life that was living inside of you.”