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Bloomington mother acquitted by reason of insanity in missing baby case

Pantagraph - 11/4/2022

Nov. 4—BLOOMINGTON — The Bloomington woman whose missing baby was presumed dead and never located by authorities was acquitted Thursday because of her mental state.

Nine months after she was charged, Kimberlee Burton, 29, was acquitted on two counts of concealing the death of her infant daughter, Zaraz Walker, and found not guilty by reason of insanity.

In a brief bench trial Thursday afternoon in which the prosecution and defense agreed to the statement of evidence and outcome, Assistant State's Attorney Mary Koll said if called for trial, a psychiatric doctor who examined Burton in March would testify she suffered from schizophrenic spectrum illness.

He concluded at the time of the offense her symptoms were so severe, Burton "lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of her conduct," Koll read from the evidence stipulation statement.

A second psychiatric doctor who was involved with her treatment between April and August would testify she suffered from schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type and post traumatic stress disorder. He would also testify Burton's condition "improved and stabilized in response to inpatient psychiatric treatment and pharmacotherapy, along with educational programming."

Burton was initially arrested in February on unrelated retail theft charges. At that time, she did not mention to police or McLean County jail staff that she had children.

Two of her children, ages 5 and 6, were left alone until they called their father, who asked his mother to pick them up.

Later that day, the children's father called the Bloomington Police Department looking for Burton and the baby, who was 6 or 7 months old, Koll said, noting "This was the first the Bloomington Police Department learned of the existence of (the baby)."

A missing child investigation then began.

Koll said Burton's behavior when interviewed by police was unusual, including "speaking in the third person and using at least three to four distinct tones of voice, (suggesting) that she was suffering from mental illness."

According to the evidence stipulation statement, three days after her arrest, Burton told her cousin during a visit in the jail, "My baby passed away two weeks ago after grandma."

"She stated that the baby slept between her legs and when she woke up one morning, the baby was dead. She stated the baby's lips were purple and Kimberlee knew she was dead so she sat the baby outside," Koll said.

Burton told her cousin she had taken the baby to the cemetery by her house. First responders, volunteers and cadaver dogs who searched Evergreen Cemetery, which is right next to Burton's residence, did not find the baby "or anything of evidentiary value," Koll said.

Burton's charges indicate the baby did not die by homicide and Burton had moved her body after her death. To date, Zaraz's remains have never been found.

Judge Casey Costigan said he agreed to the stipulations and that at the time of the offense Burton's symptoms "were so severe that the defendant lacked the capacity to appreciate the criminality of her conduct."

Costigan said Burton was to be referred to the Department of Human Service for evaluation on an inpatient basis. DHS doctors then will make a recommendation regarding her treatment.

A status hearing will be held Dec. 29 when Costigan will file an order on Burton's treatment.

Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.


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