Texts, court documents show custody battle over murdered Fergus Falls boy
Bobbie Bishop wanted full custody of Justis Burland and his twin brother Xavier. When she didn't get it after a hearing April 2, text messages sent from Bishop to the boys' grandmother reveal a mounting frustration. A week later, Justis was dead.
Text messages obtained by the Forum News Service and court documents from Otter Tail County show Bishop worked on gaining guardianship of the children for months, eventually getting one-year temporary custody from the boys' grandmother, Norma Burland of Polson, Mont., shortly before Justis' death.
Bishop, of Fergus Falls, Minn., is accused with Walter Wynhoff, also of Fergus Falls, of abusing and killing 6-year-old Justis
The texts and court papers show Bishop, referred to in custody documents as Bishop-Arnett, as a person who viewed herself as a "second mom" who loved the children and was providing them a good home. Bishop accuses Burland of not protecting Justis and Xavier from abuse by the children's mother, Misty Truitt of Spokane, Wash., and her boyfriend.
Court documents tell a much different story when it comes to Bishop. She and Wynhoff are accused of beating and torturing Justis, likely for months.
Fergus Falls police responded to a report Monday, April 9, of an unresponsive boy brought to Lake Region Hospital. A criminal complaint said a detective took photos, noting the boy's appearance "was disturbing with marks from head to toe, sores, cuts and scratches all over." The complaint says it appears Justis suffered numerous horrific injuries over a lengthy period of time, including beatings with a stick, possible scalding to his skin and hair torn from his head. The boy suffered from massive infections and injuries to many parts of his body, including his genitals.
Bishop, 40, and Wynhoff, 44, were each charged with five felonies that include second-degree murder without intent, first-degree manslaughter, two counts of second-degree manslaughter and malicious punishment of a child resulting in great bodily harm.
Justis and Xavier were given to Bishop by their grandmother in early August at a rural Otter Tail County residence in which Bishop and Wynhoff lived before moving to Fergus Falls. Burland, the children's legal guardian, said in a phone interview Friday that Bishop was a longtime friend of the family and knew the children since birth. Burland, 62, lived in Spokane with the children and said she could no longer handle them as they grew older and believed they would be safe with Bishop. Burland lost her apartment in Spokane and moved to Montana. The plan, according to Burland, was to have Justis and Xavier stay in Minnesota temporarily until they could be returned to their 42-year-old mother in Spokane, who has led a troubled life but who Burland said is getting straightened out.
"Those kids were so excited to live there and have a big yard to live in. They couldn't do that when they were living in an apartment with me in Spokane," Burland said. "No way whatsoever did I ever know this was going to happen. I took them to that house and stayed there for two days. There was a big backyard, a big playhouse. We did Bible study each night."
Court documents show Bishop filed for custody of the children in October, two months after Burland dropped them off. Bishop called the children an inspiration to her and wrote "I have been in the boys life before they were born and love them like they were my own." Bishop wrote that Burland wanted her to have full guardianship because the boys' grandmother was fiscally unable to raise them "nor does she want to."
Burland signed an agreement giving Bishop temporary custody, good for one year, on March 13.
Bishop became frustrated after a hearing conducted by phone on April 2. Burland said Bishop wanted full custody, but the grandmother resisted. Bishop became agitated and began to use profanity, Burland said, leading Judge Sharon Benson to hang up and end the hearing.
That led Bishop to send text messages to Burland threatening to turn over Justis and Xavier to social services.
"They have a good home and r finally happy so u want 2 f--- it up 4 them so ure daughter who has never got her s--- together yet after 6 yrs can have them even tho she nor you have a place or time 4 them ... I just want 2 no how u can even say u love them at all? Grrrrrrr," read one text.
That caused Burland to respond that the aborted hearing was Bishop's fault.
"You know you are the one who did this yelling and saying profanity over the phone," Burland wrote. "The judge was trying to let you know what was to be done. If u would have lisened it would have been done. The judge hung up she said you were out of control."
Bishop's reply accused Burland and Truitt of not caring for the children.
"...when you did have a car you didn't help when you did have money you didn't help them. They were abused by your daughter and your daughter's ... boyfriend and you did nothing and you still do nothing except for help your daughter hurt them more," Bishop's text said. "If you would've just stayed here and gave me full custody in the beginning like I told you you should have we would not be going through all this b------- and having all these problems ...."
On April 3, the temporary custody agreement was filed with the Otter Tail County court administrator. Bishop told police that on Sunday evening, April 8, there was an incident involving Justis and she "beat his ass" and spanked him with a belt. She told police she knew she hit him too hard. Bishop found Justis not breathing the next morning and she and Wynhoff took him to the hospital.