SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Parole has been granted for a Sioux Falls mother at the center of a 40-year-old cold case.
Police arrested Theresa Bentaas in 2019, when DNA technology showed she was the mother of a baby boy born in 1981 and abandoned in a ditch.
In October 2021, she pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter under what is called an Alford plea. It allows a defendant to maintain her innocence while authorizing the court to enter a guilty plea.
Just three months ago, a judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison with nine of those years suspended.
It was an emotional morning Thursday for Bentaas as an eight-member panel questioned whether to grant her parole or wait for her prison term to end in July.
“There simply isn’t anything to be gained by keeping her in the penitentiary,” parole board member Gregg Gass said. “Other than this issue, she’s led an exemplary life, appears to have a good family, absolutely no criminal history.”
“I don’t believe that if Ms. Bentaas is released in July that would be what we call a long sentence,” parole board member Peter Lieberman said. “That would be, pretty much, what judges call a slap in the hand. And I would just remind everybody that we have a citizen of our state who never had a chance to have a life.”
Bentaas’s attorney did most of the talking, explaining the 40-year-old case to the board. Bentaas spoke just once when asked if baby Andrew was alive when she left him on the edge of a farm field in the winter of 1981.
“I looked at him and he was lifeless,” Bentaas said. “He was white. He wasn’t kicking. He wasn’t screaming. He wasn’t crying.”
Part of the board’s decision was based on the short sentence handed down by Judge Bradley Zell in December.
“Judge Zell could’ve sentenced her to 60 days in prison and knocked her right out, but I suspect he didn’t do that because he wanted to see how she handled the slamming of those big, steel doors,” parole member Gordon Swanson said.
“She isn’t somebody who has a bunch of treatment programming needs and that’s what Judge Zell knew,” Raleigh Hansman, Bentaas’s attorney said. “That this wasn’t a rehabilitation sentence. This was a punishment sentence and her having nothing to do up there speaks to that. So what has she been doing? She’s been doing her best to keep her head down, to get through each day.”
When parole was finally granted, the 60-year-old mother and her family left the room in tears while embracing one another.
Bentaas’s parole is effective immediately, though her actual release date could be a couple weeks away yet.