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Mother Convicted in 1981 Death of Newborn Left in Field

Theresa Bentaas, who allegedly said she was 'young and stupid,' faces life in prison
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 11, 2019 11:48 AM CDT
Updated Oct 12, 2021 12:05 PM CDT
A Newborn Was Left to Die in a Field in 1981. Now, an Arrest
Theresa Rose Bentaas was convicted Friday in the 1981 death of the newborn known as "Baby Andrew."   (Minnehaha County Jail via KELO via AP)

(Newser) Update: A South Dakota woman has been convicted in the death of her newborn son, found alone in a cornfield 40 years ago. Theresa Bentaas, 60, of Sioux Falls, entered what's known as an Alford plea to manslaughter charges, a move in which she technically admits no guilt, reports the New York Times. “Mrs. Bentaas, you stand convicted of manslaughter in the first degree,” the judge told her after the plea. An autopsy determined "Baby Andrew," found in the field near Sioux Falls on Feb. 28, 1981, had died of exposure. But a doctor consulted by the defense determined the death was likely the result of birth complications and a lack of medical care, per the Argus Leader. Bentaas faces up to life in prison at her Dec. 2 sentencing. Our original story from March 2019 follows:

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A community's 38-year quest for "justice for Andrew," a newborn who was left in a South Dakota cornfield to die, has led to an arrest. Police say DNA tests show Theresa Rose Bentaas, 57, was the infant's mother, the Argus Leader reports. She now faces murder and manslaughter charges. Sioux Falls police exhumed the child's body a decade ago to obtain DNA samples. No matches were found in a state database, but a private genealogy company had more luck, which helped detectives to build a family tree that led them to Bentaas. The affadavit says she told police she was "young and stupid" at the time. She hid the pregnancy, she said, gave birth alone at home, then drove to the cornfield. Police said the infant "slowly succumbed to exposure." Bentaas and the child's father, who is not charged in the case, have two adult children.

Sioux Falls residents came together to give Andrew, as newspapers at the time called him, a funeral in March 1981. About 50 people attended the funeral, and children left stuffed animals at the casket. A church, lawyer, funeral home, and cemetery donated their services, per KELO. Among the mourners was Lee Litz, who found the child's body. He was driving by with friends when he spotted a blanket in the field. "It's just like fresh in my mind yet," he told KSFY, "like it happened yesterday." Litz still visits the cemetery. He's glad an arrest has been made, but he's still troubled that he didn't find the child sooner. "He needed somebody," Litz said. (Read more cold cases stories.)

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