State prosecution recommends Theresa Bentaas serve 40 years in prison with chance of parole: Live audio and updates




  • In US
  • 2021-12-02 17:56:32Z
  • By Argus Leader

The prosecution is recommending Theresa Bentaas serve 40 years in prison with the chance of parole in 10 years in connection with the death of her child.

Bentaas, 60, is charged with first-degree manslaughter in connection to the 1981 death of her newborn son that went unsolved for decades.

"It allows her to serve time and be back by the time she's 70 with her family," the state prosecutor said. "I believe there should be a punishment."

Judge Bradley Zell called a lunch recess shortly after 11 a.m. and will administer the sentence afterward.

The defense called their four witnesses after a brief recess. A psychologist did a forensic psychiatric evaluation on Bentaas in February 2020, where she diagnosed Bentaas as having experienced "Complete Pregnancy Denial."

"She never named him but accepted the name the church gave him," said Dr. Cara Angelotta of Northwestern University.

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When questioned by the state, Angelotta said Bentaas suffered from complete pregnancy denial and never discussed Andrew even after giving birth. She also said when talking to Bentaas the 60-year-old had no recollection of what happened to the baby after his birth.

Bentaas described the infant to Angelotta as "pale, grey and lifeless" after giving birth to him. She also told Angelotta she didn't think he was alive because he wasn't crying.

In Angelotta's statement she revealed that Bentaas hid another pregnancy five years later and gave birth to her eldest daughter at her mother's home.

Bentaas's sister Michelle Fischer was next to the stand followed by Bentaas's daughter Melissa and son Justin Bentaas.

Before the judge called the final recess Raleigh Hansman, of the defense, addressed the court and said the death of Andrew happened to Bentaas and not because of her.

"Theresa Bentaas did not kill her child," Hansman said, "She lost her son."

Hansman argued that the scientific evidence pointed to Andrew's death being due to proper medical care and not due to the "South Dakota winter."

"Andrew was born, possibly took one breath and the passed away," Hansman said.

Hansman described Bentaas' Alford plea as a compromise and said her client never admitted to killing her child.

The court is in recess until noon when Zell will sentence Bentaas. The state is requesting 40 years while the defense said time served is enough punishment.

Man who found Baby Andrew called to stand

During the first portion of the sentencing, the state called two witnesses: Lee Letz, who found the body, and Detective Michael Webb, who was responsible for solving the cold case.

The two men called upon by the state both mentioned the discovery of "Baby Andrew" as one of one where "curiosity got the best of me." The first being when Lee saw a blanket in a ditch.

"That's when I found baby Andrew with his back towards me," Lee said.

The second instance was more than a decade later when Webb saw a box with "murder" written on it as police were moving to their current location at the Law Enforcement Center.

"It was maybe by accident or luck," Webb said.

Bentaas, 60, entered an "Alford" plea on count three of first-degree manslaughter on Oct. 8, which in South Dakota is treated as a "guilty" plea. Two murder charges she faced were dropped.

Bentaas could be sentenced to up to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Zell said during her change of plea hearing in October. If Bentaas is sentenced to anything less than life, she has the possibility of parole.

What happened to Baby Andrew?

On Feb. 28, 1981, a newborn baby was found in a ditch and wrapped in a blanket alongside what is now Sycamore Avenue near 26th Street. The bundle was spotted by a driver who called to report it.

Earlier: Bentaas changes plea in 'Baby Andrew' case, found guilty on manslaughter charge

By the time officers responded, it was too late and the baby was no longer alive.

An autopsy was conducted a few days later and the cause of death was determined to likely be exposure and failure to assist the baby in maintaining an airway during birth, according to court documents. The baby was buried under the name Andrew John Doe.

The grave of Baby Andrew John Doe, an infant who was found dead in a ditch in 1981, is shown.
The grave of Baby Andrew John Doe, an infant who was found dead in a ditch in 1981, is shown.  

An expert consulted by the defense recently opined that the death was most likely the result of complications of birth in the absence of appropriate medical care, according to court documents.

After a few leads and attempts to contact the parents of the baby in 1981, the case went cold.

It would be nearly four decades before a new break in the case would come.

How was Theresa Bentaas caught?

Mike Webb, a Sioux Falls Police Department detective, reopened the case of "Baby Andrew" in hopes of obtaining any DNA evidence for testing. Webb discovered all testable evidence had been destroyed in 1995, the court documents noted.

Webb learned of a process where DNA could be extracted from the bones and tissues of the body. After doing some research, he found the North Texas University Science Center had conducted those lab tests.

About 50 people gathered to bury Andrew John Doe, an infant found in a ditch early March 1981.
About 50 people gathered to bury Andrew John Doe, an infant found in a ditch early March 1981.  

Baby Andrew's body was exhumed in September 2009 and sent down to Texas in hopes of finding any DNA matches that would help locate the parents. No matches were found, according to the court affidavit.

With no matches the case hit a stalemate again. But per policy, the DNA samples were to be tested every year and were tested in Feb. 2018 and again no matches were found, documents said.

With the technology increase, police submitted the DNA to a Virginia-based company, Parabon NanoLabs, Inc. in 2019, that was able to find two possible genetic matches.

Theresa Bentaas
Theresa Bentaas  

Using those genetic links, police were able to use a family tree that led to Theresa Rose (Josten) Bentaas and Dirk Bentaas, both of whom lived together in Sioux Falls.

Sioux Falls police then did what's called a "trash pull" at Bentaas' home, seizing DNA evidence from their trash. Police found a cigarette butt, beer and water containers.

Female DNA was found on the evidence that "could not be excluded as being from the biological mother of Baby Doe," according to a court documents.

Got a story idea from your community? Email reporter Alfonzo Galvan at agalvan@argusleader.com or follow on Twitter at @GalvanReports.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Baby Andrew cold case: Listen to Theresa Bentaas sentencing hearing

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