Celeste Burgess

CELESTE BURGESS (left), appears in Madison County District Court in August with her attorney, Chelsey Hartner. 

MADISON — A Norfolk woman could be sentenced to prison after she was found guilty on Monday of a felony in connection to the improper disposal of the remains of an unborn baby she had been nearly 30 weeks’ pregnant with.

Celeste Burgess, 18, pleaded guilty in Madison County District Court to one count of prohibited acts with human skeletal remains, a Class 4 felony punishable by up to 2 years in prison.

In exchange for Burgess’ plea, the Madison County Attorney’s Office dismissed two misdemeanor charges of concealing the death of another person and false reporting. Prosecutors also agreed not to file any additional charges against Burgess and will not make a recommendation at sentencing, which has been scheduled for Thursday, July 20.

Burgess was charged last June after police learned that she was involved in the illegal burial of an unborn baby in April 2022. 

Burgess’ mother, Jessica Burgess, 42, allegedly ordered pills in March 2022 aimed at terminating Celeste Burgess’ pregnancy. In April, the unborn baby died about 29 weeks and 5 days into the younger Burgess’ pregnancy, and prosecutors have alleged that the baby’s death was self-induced without a physician.

The Burgesses then enacted a plan to bury the baby’s remains at a rural location north of Norfolk. Evidence at Jessica Burgess’ preliminary hearing indicated that the mother and daughter buried the remains three different times and also attempted to burn the remains after the second exhumation.

Last July, a then 22-year-old man pleaded no contest to attempted concealing a death, a Class 3 misdemeanor, after he lent support to the Burgesses by providing them with transportation to and from the multiple burial sites.

Testimony from former Norfolk police detective McBride last June revealed that Jessica Burgess ordered “Pregnot” pills on eBay in March 2022 — pills that would allow her daughter to terminate her pregnancy.

Social media messages between the Burgesses obtained by McBride through a search warrant show that the two-pill order arrived on April 20, 2022. Jessica Burgess then instructed Celeste through messages to take one pill designed to stop hormone functions, wait 24 hours, then take the other pill that would complete the termination of the pregnancy.

“Celeste then made a comment along the lines of, ‘We burn the evidence when it comes out,’ and (Jessica Burgess) said, ‘Yes,’ ” McBride testified.

Celeste Burgess told police that she had a miscarriage in the shower on April 22, 2022. McBride said further review of her messages showed that she told friends in a group chat that “they were going to bury the baby’s body.”

Matthew Kiernan, deputy Madison County attorney, told District Judge James Kube that the remains were those of “an approximately 30-week-old infant child.”

Chelsey Hartner, deputy Madison County public defender, said the unborn baby was not a 30-week-old child.

“It was an approximately 30-week gestational age deceased newborn,” Hartner said. “I just want the record clear on that.”

Jessica Burgess is charged with prohibited acts with human skeletal remains, concealing the death of another person, false reporting, abortion at greater than 20 weeks’ gestation and abortion by an unlicensed physician. She faces up to 8 years in prison and is scheduled to appear in court next on Friday, July 7.

At the time Celeste Burgess’ pregnancy was terminated, Nebraska law prohibited anyone, even a licensed physician, from administering an abortion at 20 weeks past gestation.

The Nebraska Legislature has since passed LB 574, which will ban abortions at 12 weeks past gestation. Gov. Jim Pillen signed the bill into law on Monday.

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