'Please make Bobbie not hurt me': Fergus Falls woman sentenced for death of long-abused 6-year-old

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Justis Rae Burland died in 2018 after he was beaten, tortured for months
Justis Rae Burland, 6, died in April 2018 in Fergus Falls, Minn., after, according to court documents, he was beaten and tortured for months.
Courtesy photo via the Forum

By Mike McFeely via The Forum

Bobbie Christine Bishop was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years of supervised release Monday for the second-degree murder of long-abused 6-year-old Justis Burland.

District Judge Barbara Hanson, at the Otter Tail County Courthouse, rejected Bishop's rambling excuses made during her presentencing statement via video, calling them "inadequate" and saying Bishop's role in Justis' death was "significant."

Justis died after suffering ongoing abuse while in the care of Bishop and her then-boyfriend, Walter Henry Wynhoff. The investigation began April 9, 2018, after Fergus Falls police responded to the 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.

Bobbie Bishop, left, and Walter Wynhoff
Bobbie Bishop, left, and Walter Wynhoff
Via The Forum

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.

On Monday, Otter Tail County Attorney Michelle Eldien asked the judge for a sentence of 12 1/2 years, citing the "particular cruelty" of Bishop's abuse. 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.

Bishop's attorney Brian Geis asked for 128 months, about 10 1/2 years, saying his client didn't know how to handle the "bizarre behavior" of Justis and his twin brother Xavier because she'd never been a parent. The twins were staying with Bishop after they were dropped off by the children's grandmother in August 2017.

Geis and Bishop said the children had been abused before they arrived at Bishop's home in Fergus Falls and that Bishop didn't know how to seek help for them. Geis said Bishop was coerced into abusing the children by Wynhoff, who "made it clear he greatly disliked children."

Bishop admitted to using methamphetamine and smoking marijuana in the days leading up to April 9, 2018, when she and Wynhoff brought an unresponsive Justis to the hospital in Fergus Falls. In court papers, Bishop said she "lost it" when Justis and Xavier's family was blocking her from gaining full custody of the children.

Judge Hanson rejected a lengthy, emotional statement offered by Bishop via a video feed. Bishop rocked constantly in her chair during her statement, sobbing and wiping away tears.

At times taking long pauses between sentences and appearing emotional herself, Hanson scolded Bishop for attempting to be portrayed as a victim.

"Miss Bishop, I find your role was significant and that you were not the victim in this circumstance. Justis and his brother Xavier were the victims," the judge said.

Hanson noted the particular impact Justis' death would have on Xavier because they were twins, who have "a strong, significant bond between them."

The only victim impact statement was submitted on behalf of Xavier. In it, the boy said he was also abused by Bishop and asked that the judge send her to prison.

"Please make Bobbie not hurt me and my brother again," the statement said.

After the sentencing, Eldien said Hanson had leeway to adjust the presumptive sentence under state guidelines because Bishop pleaded guilty without agreement to the most severe charge in the complaint against her.

Bishop pleaded guilty in January to a charge of second-degree murder, the most serious of the charges she faced in relation to Justis' death. The guilty plea came days before her trial was scheduled to begin.

"The state only agreed to argue for the presumptive sentence under our sentencing guidelines. Because it was a straight up plea to the range of the guidelines, the judge could have went lower or higher than the 150 months," Eldien said. "Based on the facts, she chose to sentence the defendant to 180 months," which includes 10 years in prison and 5 years of supervised release.

Bishop and Wynhoff were originally charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and malicious punishment. Wynhoff made a plea bargain with the prosecution, pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter and agreeing to testify against Bishop if her case had gone to trial.

On Monday, the judge credited Bishop with having already spent 689 days in custody and ordered her to pay $7,866.79 to the Minnesota Crime Victims Reparations Board.

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