The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local News

February 28, 2013

Investigators testify in Whitehead murder trial

PALESTINE — State attorneys continued their sixth day of testimony Wednesday in the murder trial of a Palestine woman accused in the May 2010 death of a 16-month-old girl.

Jennifer Jill Whitehead, 41, is charged with capital murder for the May 5, 2010 death of her stepgranddaughter, Emma Nicole Whitehead, who died at a Dallas hospital one day after being transported to Palestine Regional Medical Center with head and other injuries.

The state continued with the testimony of Wendell Wilcher, an investigator with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the event and the case manager in Emma’s case.

The jury viewed a video of Wilcher’s initial interview with the defendant that took place on the day Emma was injured, May 4, 2010.

Wilcher was questioned about why, during the course of the interview with Whitehead, he would walk out of the room and return later.

“I would leave to go check for updates and so we could observe Whitehead during those times,” Wilcher said. “We noticed that some part of the story changed — that something new was added — each time we would leave the room and return to continue to interview.

“(The interview) would have stopped earlier if the story remained the same.”

When the interview first began, Wilcher explained, Whitehead was asked by officers what they should expect to see when they looked at Emma.

“At first she said, ‘nothing,’” Wilcher testified, “but by the end (of the interview) she had an explanation for every bruise.”

During his investigation of the case, Wilcher reported that there were instances when he returned to the home of Whitehead — the first on May 6, when he executed a warrant to pick up a computer.

“We wanted to see if there was any forensic evidence on the computer,” Wilcher said, “and Whitehead had previously told us that she was heading to the computer to remove music from it when Emma was injured. We wanted to verify that.”

When he arrived at the home, Whitehead and her mother were there and the defendant was on the phone, according to Wilcher.

“While I was there, (Whitehead) told me she wanted to show me something,” Wilcher testified, stating that the defendant spent some time showing him how the scene looked on the day that Emma was hurt.

“She showed me how the living room was laid out,” he said. “She picked up the table (that had been laying on its side behind Emma’s playpen) and showed me where the playpen and little chair were located.”

On May 18, Wilcher executed another warrant — for the previously mentioned table, which was a large, wood octagon-shaped table utilized in the living room decor.

“It was just Jill Whitehead there when I arrived. She came to the door and was very cooperative,” Wilcher said. “We had already spoken about my coming to get the table that day.”

As he was leaving the residence, Wilcher testified that Whitehead told him that she had found the onesie Emma was wearing when she was injured and that she wanted to give it to him.

“She met me at the truck as I was leaving and gave it to me,” he said. “She said it had been washed and that ‘if you test it, and you probably will, you are probably going to find blood on it.’”

The onesie, described by Wilcher as a yellow sleeping garment made of wool or a thick cotton, was shown to the jury.

“When I picked up the onesie (from Whitehead), the weather was warm,” he stated in response to questioning by the state.

Also testifying Tuesday was Capt. Jay Russell, an investigator with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office who assisted in the investigation of Emma’s case.

“I was a sergeant at the time, and my proficiency was in photography,” Russell testified. “I was assigned to take photos and gather evidence.”

Russell testified that he was first called to Palestine Regional Medical Center to take photos of Emma, and later that day was sent to the scene to take pictures of the inside and outside of the Whitehead residence.

“When I looked at the child I determined that a serious crime had happened, like abuse, particularly due to the severity of the injuries,” he testified. “I have never seen anything like this.”

Russell arrived at the Whitehead residence just after noon, he said, and probably took over 200 pictures there at the scene.

“I  started on the exterior of the property... there was a lot of stuff outside,” he said, stating that when he got to the interior of the residence he “got the impression that the resident could be considered a hoarder.

“There were piles of household items everywhere,” Russell added. “It is very hard to look for evidence in a mess like that, but in those circumstance, we usually do a walk through and find things that might be specifically related to the case.”

Investigators were instructed to seize several items that they had already been informed might be blood evidence, including a sock, and standard and king sized pillows, a paper towel, a pair of boys boxer briefs and playpen bedding.

Other evidence gathered at the scene that day included the child’s chair, Emma’s playpen and a white washcloth.

When questioned about the yellow onesie, Russell testified that he did not recall seeing it at all.

“I took a picture of what I thought to be a onesie,” he said. “I though it was near the playpen at the octagon table.”

Also as part of his investigation, Russell and Texas Ranger Rudy Flores traveled to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas on May 5 to gather photographic evidence from Emma.

The pair also attended Emma’s autopsy on May 6 and conducted an interview with Whitehead and her attorney on May 18. Another interview with Whitehead was conducted on June 15, Russell testified, where she was asked to recreate the scene.

The trial is set to continue with more testimony from Russell at 1 p.m. today on the second floor of the Anderson County Courthouse, with 369th State District Court Judge Bascom W. Bentley III presiding.

Representing the state is Anderson County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Watkins, with assistance from District Attorney Doug Lowe. The defendant is being represented by Palestine attorney Stephen Evans and Dallas attorney Clipper Peale.


Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at


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