FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — A Fergus Falls woman has admitted to killing a 6-year-old boy in 2018 just days before she was to go on trial on charges accusing her of continuously beating the child and leaving injuries that investigators called disturbing.
Bobbi Christine Bishop, 42, pleaded guilty Thursday, Jan. 23, in Otter Tail County District Court to a second-degree felony of murder, the most serious of the six charges she faced in relation to the April 2018 death of Justis Burland. She had a pre-trial hearing the same day, and a trial was scheduled to start Tuesday, Jan. 28.
But Bishop changed her mind before the hearing, County Attorney Michelle Eldien said Thursday night.
“She indicated she had no desire to go to trial,” Eldien said.
Prosecutors said Justis died after suffering ongoing abuse while in the care of Bishop and her then-boyfriend, 46-year-old Walter Henry Wynhoff. The investigation began April 9, 2018, after Fergus Falls police responded to Lake Region Hospital on a report of an unresponsive boy.
Court documents detailed how Justis was covered head to toe with cuts, sores, scratches and other injuries. He was beaten with a stick and possibly suffered from scalding to his skin, and doctors told investigators some injuries appeared to be older than others, according to court documents.
Police discovered that Justis and his twin brother, Xavier, were left with Bishop in August 2017 by their grandmother, Norma Burland, who was a longtime friend of Bishop. Text messages obtained by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead indicated Bishop had a temporary custody agreement that expired in March 2018.
Bishop wanted full custody of the brothers, according to text messages. She became frustrated after a hearing conducted by phone on April 2, 2018. A week later, Bishop and Wynhoff found Justis was not breathing on April 9, 2018, and they took him to the hospital, according to court documents.
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Criminal complaints describe numerous beatings Justis endured in the days leading up to his death. Wynhoff told police Bishop disciplined the child by beating him with a belt and spanking him, sometimes taping Justis to the wall with duct tape, court documents said.
Bishop also told police she asked Wynhoff to help her discipline the child, according to court documents. The evening before Justis was taken to the hospital, there was an incident during which Bishop "beat his ass," court documents said.
“I shoulda brought him in. I didn’t want them to take him away,” Bishop told police, explaining she beat him too hard.
Bishop and Wynhoff were charged April 10, 2018, with multiple felony counts, including murder, manslaughter and malicious punishment of a child.
Xavier was returned to Washington to be closer to family.
Wynhoff was sentenced May 6 to four years in prison for second-degree manslaughter for his role in Justis’ death. He had more than a year of credit for time served, and the Minnesota Department of Corrections website says his anticipated release date is Dec. 7.
Bishop faces a maximum punishment of 40 years in prison, but guidelines suggest she could get 12½ years, Eldien said.
The remaining charges are expected to be dismissed after Bishop is sentenced for murder on March 20. She is being held at the Otter Tail County Detention Center.