BRAZOS COUNTY, TX – A Texas woman has been sentenced to life in prison for the brutal torture and killing of her 6-year-old stepdaughter in 2020.
Jessica Bundren, 40, was found guilty by a Brazos County jury on Friday of felony injury to a child causing serious bodily injury resulting in the death of Arianna Rose Battelle. The jury handed down the maximum sentence of life in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Bundren and the twins’ father, Justin Hopper, were indicted in October 2020 on two counts each of injury to a child related to their severe abuse of Arianna and her twin sister.
While Hopper has yet to stand trial, Bundren was convicted based on evidence that she ruthlessly beat and tortured the two girls over an extended period.
Stepmother Claims Girl Fell Down Stairs Before Dying
On October 27, 2020, police and EMS responded to the family’s Garden Acres home after receiving a 9pm call that a child had stopped breathing.
Bundren initially told first responders that Arianna had fallen down the stairs a few hours earlier. She claimed she had put the girl to bed afterward and later found her unresponsive.
When police arrived, they found Arianna’s body covered by a sheet on the floor. She was declared dead at the scene. Officers noted the 6-year-old had extensive visible bruising and belt marks across her body that appeared to have been inflicted over time.
Police Say Stepmother Admitted to Fatal Beating as Punishment
Upon further questioning, Bundren admitted to police that she had beaten Arianna six times with a belt as punishment for wetting the bed. This matched the victim’s age at the time of her death. Investigators later recovered a belt from the home consistent with the distinctive bruise pattern on Arianna’s skin.
Prosecutors presented evidence at trial showing that Bundren and Hopper used both a belt and wooden paddle to repeatedly beat the twin girls beyond any reasonable form of discipline.
Medical Expert Testifies Abuse Was Prolonged Torture
A medical expert who testified for the prosecution stated that the nature and extent of both girls’ injuries showed signs of extreme, ongoing torture. They said Arianna endured a “slow and painful” death over an extended period due to systemic abuse.
Forensic nurses who examined Arianna’s twin sister following the incident described her injuries as the worst child abuse they had witnessed in their careers. The girl had extensive bruising over her entire body that impeded her ability to move normally.
Maximum Sentence Welcomed by Victim’s Family
Following the sentencing, Arianna’s aunt Courtney Onstott told local media she was relieved by the jury’s decision to hand down the maximum punishment.
“She got exactly what she deserves. She took away my niece’s life, and she deserves to spend the rest of her life having no life, so I do feel like justice was served today, and I’m very grateful for that,” Onstott said.
She added that the life sentence brought comfort that her surviving niece no longer had to “wake up every day and worry about whether her monster’s going to be walking around free or not.”
Stepfather Faces Same Charges in Ongoing Abuse Case
While Bundren will spend the rest of her life in prison, the twins’ father Justin Hopper is scheduled to stand trial on identical felony counts of injury to a child later this month.
Prosecutors are expected to make the same case against Hopper that he participated alongside Bundren in the ongoing torture and beating of the girls that ultimately took Arianna’s life.
Defense attorneys have not yet indicated what strategy Hopper will take when he appears in court. He remains in custody on a $500,000 bond while awaiting his day in court.
The horrific abuse and murder of Arianna Rose Battelle has shocked the local Brazos County community. Many are relieved that Bundren has been handed the harshest punishment possible under Texas state law for her role in the child‘s tragic death. The case represents one of the worst examples of child abuse local authorities have ever encountered.
While the jury’s verdict cannot undo the trauma and loss inflicted on the twin girls, many hope it will provide some degree of justice and closure for the surviving sister and rest of the family. The community will be closely following Justin Hopper’s upcoming trial for his participation in the harrowing long-term abuse.