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Judge: Neglect charges proven against mother in missing baby case

Accusations of child neglect have been proven by the state against a Bloomington mother accused of concealing the death of her infant daughter, a judge ruled on Tuesday in a hearing on the custody of the woman’s two surviving children.

Kimberlee Burton, mother of 7-month-old Zaraz Walker, was found mentally unfit to stand trial in March on charges of child endangerment and concealing a death. Burton told authorities the infant died at home and she placed her in a cemetery near the family’s home on East Wood Street. Zaraz’s body has not been found. The baby was reported missing after a relative went to check on the children following Burton’s arrest on retail theft charges.

Burton participated in the hearing remotely from the mental health facility in northern Illinois where she is receiving treatment.

In his ruling, Associate Judge Brian Goldrick found that the state had proven allegations that Burton left her two children, ages 7 and 5 at the time, without supervision for “a significant period of time.” The youngsters were believed to have been alone for one to two days, said the judge.

On Feb. 12, the father of the two minors contacted his mother in Cook County and asked her to check on the three children, according to police. The baby was not at the home when she arrived.

A second allegation of neglect involves Burton’s mental health and her ability to care for her children. The judge noted that Burton was found mentally unfit to stand trial and is receiving mental health treatment.

When asked if Burton was able to assist with the pending abuse and neglect case, public defender Danielle Sipiora responded, “I don’t believe she is able to assist at this time.”

Assistant state’s attorney Tammy Hiler-Welch and Sipiora stipulated to facts surrounding the circumstances of the accusations. The neglect allegations will not be used against Burton in her criminal case, Hiler-Welch told the judge.

The father of the minors attended the hearing remotely and learned during the proceedings that forensic tests have confirmed he is the children’s biological father. He resides outside McLean County and is not accused of abuse or neglect.

The children will remain with a family member. Credible evidence of abuse was found by DCFS involving a third child, a daughter, who lives with her father. DCFS deemed a July report of neglect that was based on concerns by hospital workers who saw the woman after Zaraz’s birth as unfounded.

The judge ordered Burton and the children’s father to cooperate with DCFS as both sides prepare for a June 23 hearing to discuss permanent custody of the minors. Failure to cooperate “could risk having your parental rights terminated,” the judge told the couple.

Edith began her career as a reporter with The DeWitt County Observer, a weekly newspaper in Clinton. From 2007 to June 2019, Edith covered crime and legal issues for The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Pantagraph covering courts and local government issues in central Illinois.
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