Judges Vacates Woman's Sentence In Baby's Neglect Death

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Bismarck woman sentenced to prison after the death of her 3-week-old baby will receive a new trial after a judge found her attorney gave her improper advice when persuading her to plead guilty.

District Court Judge Daniel Borgen on Tuesday vacated the prison sentence of 27-year-old Cassandra Black Elk, who pleaded guilty to felony child abuse after her infant daughter was found dead on Feb. 19, 2022, KFGO reported.

Black Elk said she asked several times to see the final autopsy report but her public defender, James Loras, told her to plead guilty and they would “deal with it later.” Black Elk received the final autopsy report after her plea.

The report showed no evidence that abuse or neglect led to the baby's death and made clear Black Elk's conduct was not to blame, according to Borgen's order.

Borgen also noted that the Burleigh County State’s Attorney was present at the autopsy but did not tell the defense attorney that no evidence of neglect was found.

The ruling means the previous verdict has been vacated and Black Elk’s guilty plea withdrawn. A new trial date has been set for May.