Bobbie Christine Bishop’s decision Thursday to plead guilty to one of the six charges against her marked a milestone in a 21-month search for justice in the death of a 6-year-old boy.
Bishop’s amended plea of guilt to a charge of second-degree murder came six days before she was scheduled to go on trial at the Otter Tail County Courthouse.
Appearing in Seventh District Court Thursday with a public defender, Bishop made it clear she did not wish to go before a jury.
Bishop was one of two people accused in April 2018 of bringing about the death of Justis Burland at a home on Friberg Avenue in Fergus Falls.
At the time of her arrest, the 42-year-old woman was living with her boyfriend, 46-year-old Walter Wynhoff, and caring for Justis and his twin brother, Xavier. The boys had been left in Bishop’s temporary care by their grandmother, Norma Burland, a resident of Montana.
An investigation found evidence that Justis had been beaten and punished repeatedly by Bishop in her attempts to discipline him.
According to court records, a frantic Bishop brought the child to Lake Region Hospital on the morning of April 9, 2018, for treatment. Finding him to be unresponsive, the staff immediately started efforts to resuscitate him. The boy was eventually declared deceased.
A Fergus Falls police detective called to the scene took photographs of the boy. He also spoke with staff members, including a doctor, who described the child’s overall appearance as disturbing. There were multiple signs of trauma consistent with different mechanisms of inflicted injury.
On April 10, 2018, five felony charges and one gross-misdemeanor charge were brought against both Bishop and Wynhoff including charges of second-degree murder, first- and second-degree manslaughter and malicious punishment of a child.
Wynhoff was sentenced to four years in prison on a second-degree manslaughter charge on May 6, 2019.
The state of Bishop’s mental health has been evaluated and reevaluated in the past 22 months.
During courtroom appearances in Fergus Falls Bishop was often observed rocking silently back and forth in her chair.
In November of 2019, a decision was made by the court and both pretrial and jury trial dates were determined.
Bishop will be sentenced by Judge Barbara Hanson at 1:30 p.m. on March 20 at which time the remaining charges are expected to be dismissed.
Second-degree murder carries a penalty of not more than 40 years in a state correctional facility.
Bishop is presently in custody at the Otter Tail County Jail.
County Attorney Michelle Eldien and public defender Brian Geis could not be reached for comment Friday.