The Minnesota Court of Appeals has given the thumbs up to an Otter Tail County District judge who gave the maximum sentence to a Fergus Falls woman after she pleaded guilty to second-degree unintentional murder of a 6-year-old boy in her care.
Bobbie Christine Bishop was charged in 2018 with second-degree murder (without intent), first-degree manslaughter, two counts of second-degree manslaughter, and malicious punishment of a child (great bodily harm) after the death of 6-year-old Justis Burland.
According to the criminal complaint, Bishop brought the child to an emergency room in Fergus Falls. Wearing only a diaper at the time, the child was described by medical staff as “unresponsive,” “limp,” “not breathing,” having “no pulse,” and being “cold to the touch.” Examination of the child revealed several infected wounds, sores, burns, and abrasions across the child’s body. Following unsuccessful attempts at resuscitation, hospital staff declared the child dead.
Bishop told investigators that she and her then-boyfriend, Walter Henry Wynhoff, had been watching the child and the child’s brother since 2017 and that she brought the child to the ER after discovering that the child was not breathing and blue in color.
Both Bishop and Wynhoff told investigators that they had punished the child in several ways, including spanking him, hitting him with a belt, and wrapping him in duct tape.
State sentencing guidelines call for a prison sentence ranging from 10 years and eight months, to 15 years.
In her Alford plea, Bishop asked the district court for a shorter sentence, or at most the minimum sentence of 128 months.
The prosecution asked for a sentence of 15 years, citing the "particular cruelty" of Bishop's abuse. Otter Tail County Attorney Michelle Eldien said that some of the injuries noted by the medical examiner who performed the boy's autopsy were comparable to those seen in prisoners in concentration camps, according to an earlier Forum Communications story.
The only victim impact statement was submitted by the murdered boy’s twin brother, Xavier. In it, the boy said he was also abused by Bishop and asked that the judge send her to prison.
"Please make Bobbie (Bishop) not hurt me and my brother again," the statement said.
District Judge Barbara Hanson gave Bishop 15 years in prison, the maximum possible under the sentencing guidelines, and Bishop appealed.
She had no criminal history and the record shows she was remorseful and cooperative during the plea hearing and had the support of family. The district court recognized these facts, stating that “Ms. Bishop may be amenable to probation.” But Judge Hanson found Bishop’s role in the child’s death was “significant” and that a shorter prison term just wasn’t going to cut it.
“There were “weeks, perhaps months during which (the little boy) was not provided adequate care physically, emotionally, or mentally,” the judge found.
In its decision, the Appeals Court found nothing wrong with the trial judge denying the lighter sentence, “because the district court’s decision was based on a careful review of the record, and the sentence is within the sentencing guidelines range. In sum, the district court properly exercised its discretion.”
Wynhoff pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in May 2019 and was sentenced to four years in prison, minus 400 days for time served. He is expected to be released in 2022.