A mother and daughter from Norfolk, Nebraska, are facing felony charges for an alleged illegal abortion and subsequent burial of a fetus.
Prosecutors say Jessica Burgess, 41, helped her daughter Celeste Burgess with an abortion earlier this year when medical records indicated she was more than 23 weeks pregnant – beyond the period during which the practice is legal. Celeste was 17 at the time, but is being tried as an adult.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a case like this,” Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith said Friday, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. “Usually, abortions are performed in hospitals, and doctors are involved, and it’s not the type of stuff that occurred in this case.”
Smith’s office charged Jessica Burgess with performing or attempting an abortion on a pregnancy at more than 20 weeks (post-fertilization), and performing an abortion without being a licensed doctor. This was the first time in more than three decades in his position that he has charged anyone with those offenses.
Those charges are in addition to charges filed against both women earlier this year regarding the disposal of the fetus. Jessica and Celeste Burgess are each facing a felony charge of removing, concealing or abandoning a dead human body, and misdemeanors for concealing the death of another person and false reporting.
A 22-year-old man pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor after he was accused of helping the two women bury the fetus.
The investigation of the case began in April, after a Norfolk Police detective received a tip that Celeste had a miscarriage and buried the fetus with her mother, the Journal-Star reported. The detective found the medical records indicating how far along the pregnancy had been, and that she had been due on July 3. He spoke to the Burgesses days later, and court records reportedly say they told him Celeste gave birth to a stillborn baby while she was showering.
They reportedly said they then put the body in a bag, placed it in a van, and later buried it a few miles away with the man’s help. They even showed the detective where the body was buried – on land owned by the 22-year-old’s parents. The man reportedly said that the women tried to burn the body first, which was consistent with the investigation’s findings.
At that point, the women were charged with the offenses of concealing the death and body, and false reporting. Not long after, however, the detective used a search warrant to access the women’s Facebook accounts and found messages between the two of them indicating that Jessica Burgess got her daughter abortion pills, as well as directions for what to do with them.
According to Omaha’s KMTV, those messages were sent two days before the stillbirth.
“C. Burgess talks about how she can’t wait to get the ‘thing’ out of her body and reaffirms with J. Burgess that they will burn the evidence afterward,” the detective wrote in a document obtained by the Journal Star. It was at that point that the abortion-related charges were filed.
Court records show that Celeste Burgess has a court date scheduled for August 29, and Jessica Burgess has a date set for September 2. Local NTV News reports that both women were released after Celeste posted a $20,000 bond and Jessica posted a $10,000 bond.