The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local News

February 22, 2013

Testimony continues in murder trial

PALESTINE — Opening statements were held and the state began witness testimonies Wednesday in the capital murder trial of a Palestine woman accused in the May 2010 death of her 16-month-old stepgranddaughter.

Jennifer Jill Whitehead, 40, is charged with capital murder in connection with the May 5, 2010 death of Emma Nicole Whitehead, who died at a Dallas hospital one day after being transported to Palestine Regional Medical Center with head and other injuries.

According to previous reports from law enforcement, Whitehead told authorities that the toddler’s injuries were the result of a fall from a playpen at their residence on CR 2210, west of Palestine, but investigators said from the outset that her injuries were inconsistent with that explanation.

Wednesday’s testimony focused on the arrival of first responders and EMS at the scene as well as the nurse who treated the baby and those who initialized the investigation of the case.

Lisa Stenbridge, dispatcher for Palestine Regional Medical Center EMS, recalled receiving the 911 call, made by the child’s paternal grandfather Lance Whitehead on the morning of May 4, 2010.

“The call came in and the gentleman said the child wasn’t breathing and said that they needed an ambulance,” Stenbridge testified. “I got the phone number and address and dispatched the ambulance. Then I asked to speak to the grandmother who was doing CPR.”

“She kept saying she knew how to do CPR,” the dispatcher said. “She said, ‘I know how to do (expletive) CPR. I don’t need any help.’”

At some point, Stenbridge said, she heard what sounded like the telephone being thrown or slammed. After trying to return the call, Lance Whitehead called her back and asked when the ambulance would arrive.

Next to testify was Kyle Betterton, a Palestine Fire Department Captain and Westside Volunteer Fire Department Chief, who was first to arrive at the Whitehead residence.

“I was at home that day and I responded as a Westside volunteer,” Betterton testified. “Tucker VFD actually got the page, but I responded first in my personal vehicle.”

When he arrived at the scene, Betterton said there were two people on the front porch — Lance Whitehead and a Tucker VFD first responder.

“I entered the home (a trailer house) and Mrs. Whitehead was directly in front of the couch on a throw rug on her knees over the baby doing CPR,” he testified. “The baby was on the floor, with just a diaper on.

“When I came in, (Jill Whitehead) stood up and sat down on the couch and crossed her arms,” he added. “She leaned back and said, ‘I know CPR.’”

Betterton testified that his first impression of the situation was that Emma Whitehead appeared to be in cardiac arrest or had coded.

“I saw multiple bruises, especially on the baby’s head,” he stated.

Everything happened quickly upon his arrival, Betterton said. He said he  checked Emma’s pulse and began rescue breaths when he saw that EMS had arrived at the residence.

“The whole thing took a minute,” he testified. “I was carrying her to the ambulance and was met by EMS James Reed at the door.”

It was while working on Emma in the ambulance that paramedics began to see that something more might have happened to Emma.

“I thought something was traumatically wrong here,” Betterton said. “There was bruising throughout her entire body.”

Reed agreed with Betterton, testifying that, “I will remember that day until I die, just how damaged she was. She was bruised from head to toe, even the bottoms of her feet.”

Reed stated that he cold not see the marks on Emma at first.

“As soon as she got to me, I could see bruises,” he said. “Her face was very bruised... as were her eyes and mouth. There were varying degrees of bruising.

“I remember thinking they were everywhere.”

PRMC paramedic Nathan Cole, lead medic on the call, testified that he looked at Emma’s eyes and noted that they were dilated and non-reactive — a sign of a possible brain injury.

Also testifying Wednesday was Tiffany Durham a registered nurse in PRMC’s emergency room. With over 18 years of experience as a nurse — seven years at a children’s hospital, she reported that she “just couldn’t believe” what she saw when Emma was brought in to the emergency room that day.

“I remember. It was awful,” she testified. “I had never seen a baby look that bad, ever. She was very badly bruised from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet. In 18 years, I have never seen a baby look like that.”

According to Durham, Emma exhibited multiple symptoms of trauma, from the inability to breathe on her own or maintain a proper core body temperature to high blood sugar and blood so thin, the nurse described it as “kool-aid.”

Later, upon seeing the results of Emma’s CBC (Complete Blood Count), a picture began to be painted.

“(A CBC) tells a story about what is going on in the body,” Durham testified, stating that Emma’s blood hemaglobin (HGB) and hemacrit (HCB) levels were both “half normal.”

“That means her blood volume was ‘half-low,’ which made sense when I saw the ‘kool-aid’ blood,” she added. “It shows that Emma may have been ‘bleeding out,’ or had internal injuries — that something bad was going on inside.”

Emma was transported to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, where she died the next day from the injuries.

An autopsy performed on Emma’s body at the Southwestern Institute for Forensic Sciences in Dallas revealed that she died as a result of “blunt force trauma,” with the manner of death listed as “homicide.”

Also testifying for the state Tuesday were, Anderson County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Troy Black and Larry Reeves, current Internal Affairs Investigator for the state attorney general who was a special investigator for Child Protective Services at the time of the incident.

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.

The trial, being held in the court of 369th District Court Judge Bascom W. Bentley III, was set to continue at 9 a.m. today on the second floor of the Anderson County Courthouse with more testimony expected from Reeves.

The jury for the trial was seated Tuesday.

Under Texas law, the murder of a child under 6 years of age constitutes capital murder. Lowe previously reported that he would not be seeking the death penalty but a “life without parole” sentence.


Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at

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