2017-11-09 / Front Page

Needmore Mother Begins Sentence For Shaking Baby

Will spend 4 ½ to 10 years in state prison

A Needmore woman will spend the next 4 ½ to 10 years in a state prison after pleading no-contest to allegations that she shook her infant son on several occasions, causing bleeding on the child’s brain.

Destiny Annabelle Berkstresser, 21, was sentenced last Tuesday in the Fulton County Court of Common Pleas for felony aggravated assault – victim less than 13 following her no-contest plea entered Aug. 15, 2017. According to court documents, seven other charges against Berkstresser were dismissed.

On Feb. 12, 2016, Winchester (Va.) Medical Center contacted the Pennsylvania State Police in McConnellsburg to report that a 5-month-old boy was being treated for five separate brain bleeds, according to court documents filed in Berkstresser’s case.

In addition to Pennsylvania State Police, the investigation was also assisted by the Fairfax County (Va.) Police.

Upon further examination of the 5-month-old, doctors told investigations that several brain scans picked up five separate brain bleeds in various stages of healing. When questioned about the hemorrhages, Berkstresser initially claimed she had no idea how they had gotten there.

After a skeletal scan ordered by the forensic medical director at Fairfax Hospital, Dr. William Hauda, investigators were also made aware that the infant’s right and left ulna bones (forearms) were fractured. Dr. Hauda advised that the injury to the forearms and the brain were evidence of consistent yanking and grabbing with force and shaking of the baby.

When investigators Cpl. James Lupey of the McConnellsburg state police, and Fairfax, Va., detectives Tiffany Horton and Leah Smith interviewed Berkstresser about the injuries, she initially stated that she became frustrated with the baby, but that she did not hurt him, and that “she was against shaken baby syndrome.”

One of the witnesses investigators interviewed said that he saw Berkstresser shaking the baby in January 2016 because the child would not go to sleep. Roughly two weeks prior to that, the witness reported, Berkstresser had also shaken the baby because he would not eat.

According to police these incidents happened in Berkstresser’s home in Needmore, where another witness described seeing the baby have what appeared to be a seizure.

After gathering such reports and witnessing Berkstresser texting rapidly before and after her interview, investigators seized her phone. Their review of the text messages found statements between Berkstresser and witnesses about the involvement of/knowledge of the baby’s injuries and the importance of “being careful” about what they put in their messages in the future. When questioned again, Berkstresser denied harming the infant, but related that she “blacks out” due to being frustrated and angry with him. Her anger stemmed from multiple things, such as the baby not taking his meds, not eating, and playing with his bottle instead of eating.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, Berkstresser admitted that she loves her son, but also resents him for being a product of a rape/unwanted/unplanned pregnancy. She also went on to admit that she resented her son for reminding her of her pregnancy and how she was no longer able to do the things her friends were doing.

The current condition of the baby is not known.

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