“Baby Andrew” case comes to a close with sentencing
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Thursday’s sentencing of Theresa Bentaas in the death of her infant son brings an end to the “Baby Andrew” case, after over 40 years.
Bentaas was sentenced by Circuit Judge Bradley Zell to 10 years in prison on the charge of first-degree manslaughter. However, Zell suspended nine of those years and credited 73 days towards time served for when Bentaas was in county jail. With South Dakota’s parole eligibility set as it is, Zell told Bentaas she would be eligible to leave prison after around 60 days. After that, Bentaas would still be under the supervision of the Department of Correction for the rest of her suspended nine years.
Back in October, Bentaas had entered into an Alford Plea. That motion is still a guilty plea, but one where the defendant does not admit to the criminal act. By entering that plea, the first and second-degree murder charges against her were also dropped.
Thursday’s sentencing condensed over 40 years of investigations into one morning. Lee Litz, the man who found the dead infant in February of 1981, was called as a witness by the prosecution to recall when and how he found the body.
“We seen them blankets laying there, and my curiosity got the best of me. I went over to see what it was, and that’s when I found Andrew laying there with his back to me.” said Litz.
Former Sioux Falls Police Department Detective Mike Webb also testified about how he stumbled upon the cold case in the first place, and how he and the police department eventually linked “Baby Andrew” to Bentaas using DNA technology not available until 2019.
“We ended up finding a woman who very closely matched into the family tree. In researching her, we saw that she had children that would have been about the age of someone that could have gave birth to a baby in 1981.” said Webb.
Investigators did a “trash pull” and seized a water bottle, beer can and cigarette butts that were submitted for testing which discovered possible DNA evidence. That led to Bentaas’ arrest in March of 2019.
Both of Bentaas’ adult children testified in her defense, shining a spotlight on her care as a mother and grandmother to try and sway leniency from the court. They asked that Bentaas be allowed a sentence of timed served, effectively letting her walk with no time served in prison.
“My hope is that upon conclusion of this case, our family is able to talk openly with one another. Process, grieve, and eventually come to the point of healing.” said Bentaas’ daughter Melissa Feilmeier.
Bentaas’ son, Justin Bentaas’, said sentencing her to time in prison would do nothing to rehabilitate her. He also said it wouldn’t make the community any safer and only take away a family member.
“If the court is sincere in trying to deliver the best resolution in this case, you will let my family walk out of this courtroom with my mom, and allow us to finally embrace my brother as a complete family.” said Bentaas.
Judge Zell made note that in determining the sentencing for Bentaas, that the facts of the case do not support the claims that “Baby Andrew” was left in the cold in 1981, but rather that the child died shortly after birth. That information comes from an autopsy performed on the infant by the Minnehaha County Coroner’s office in 1981.
“The court is not condoning what Theresa Bentaas did in this matter, but it is not too clear that she killed her baby boy.” said Judge Zell.
Speaking towards Bentaas, Judge Zell said that while the sentencing isn’t what her or her family wanted, it’s a just decision based on the facts of the case and the information submitted by both parties.
“Is it what your family wanted? No. Is it what others in the community, and including the state wanted? No.” said Judge Zell. “That’s not my job, to render a decision as to what people want. It’s as to what is just, what is appropriate under the circumstances of this case.”
Judge Zell said the sentencing will allow Bentaas and her family to grieve together in due time, and allow them to move forward together.
“I do hope, that as uttered by the words of your children, that not only does this bring closure, but it can also bring inclusion to the whole family, together.”
Bentaas will need to report to the Minnehaha County Jail on January 15th. From there, she’ll be transferred to the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre.
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