Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith noted that he has never filed these specific charges before in his 32 years as the county’s prosecutor.
"I don’t think I’ve ever had a case like this," 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."
According to court documents, Norfolk police launched an investigation into the Burgess family in April after receiving a tip that Celeste had miscarried and buried a “body.” Detectives then obtained a copy of the teen's medical records and determined she was 23 weeks pregnant at the time of the alleged incident. Her expected due date was July 3.
During initial investigations, Celeste told police that she had experienced a miscarriage by accident on April 22 while in the shower and thus placed the fetus in a box to bury it, an affidavit obtained by KMTV said.
According to the arrest affidavit, she even showed investigators where the fetus was buried on April 29. The fetus was allegedly buried on a property north of Norfolk owned by Barnhill's parents. When authorities exhumed it, it showed signs of what the detective called “thermal wounds.”
The two women were then each charged with removing, concealing, or abandoning a dead human body, a felony, and a pair of misdemeanors: concealing the death of another person; and false reporting.
But despite these charges, investigators continued to look into the incident and even attempted to access Celeste’s social media. A week after the charges were announced, a detective served a search warrant on Facebook to get access to their accounts.
As a result on June 7, the investigator allegedly found messages between the mother and daughter detailing how Celeste had undergone a self-managed abortion with her mother’s help. The messages dated from April 20—two days before the alleged stillbirth—reportedly suggested Jessica obtained abortion pills for her daughter and gave her instructions on how to take them.
Court documents also allege Celeste expressed how she couldn't wait to get the “thing” out of her body, with her mother confirming they would “burn the evidence afterward.”
As a result of the new findings, Smith added two more felonies to the charges against Jessica Burgess for performing or attempting an abortion on a pregnancy at more than 20 weeks, and performing an abortion as an unlicensed doctor, NBC News affiliate KPVI reported.
“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 said, according to court records.
According to Forbes, this instance of obtaining her social media messages using a search warrant is considered one of the first times a person’s Facebook activity has been used to incriminate a person in a state where abortion access is restricted. The scenario remained hypothetical in the weeks following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but was a worry of many advocates.
While Nebraska currently has a ban on abortions beyond 20 weeks, Republican lawmakers are attempting to decrease that time frame to 12 weeks. They have failed to secure enough votes thus far.
Both Jessica and Celeste now face charges of concealing the death of another person, false information, and a felony charge for human skeletal remains. Jessica has two additional felony charges for performing or attempting an abortion at more than 20 weeks and performing an abortion as an unlicensed doctor.
Both women have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Jessica was released from jail on June 27 after posting a $10,00 bond. She is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 2, NTV reported.
Celeste was released on July 21 after posting a $20,000 bond and is scheduled for court on Aug. 29. Barnhill has pled no contest to his charge and was found guilty. He is scheduled to appear in Madison County Court for sentencing Aug. 23.
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