The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

January 2, 2014

2013 Stories of the Year: Economy, fire, murder trial make up year's top headlines



3 Whitehead found guilty of capital murder — After just over three hours of deliberations, a jury of five women and seven men found a local woman accused in the 2010 death of a 16-month-old girl guilty of capital murder and a second charge of injury to a child on March 1.

The defendant, 41-year-old Jennifer Jill Whitehead, received an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for the capital murder charge for her role in the May 5, 2010 death of Emma Whitehead.

For the second charge, injury to a child, Whitehead waived her right to sentencing by the jury and accepted a plea bargain of 15 years, which was approved by presiding 369th State District Judge Bascom W. Bentley III.

The state called numerous witnesses to the stand during its seven days of testimony including emergency medical personnel, law enforcement investigators, doctors, nurses, a medical examiner, three of the victim’s relatives and even a Walmart cashier who interacted with Emma and the defendant just a few days before the child’s death.

The defense’s lone witness was forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas William Young, who testified in the midst of state testimony due to time restrictions.

According to witness testimony, a 911 called was made at about 9:50 a.m. on May 4, 2010, with Emma’s paternal grandfather telling dispatchers that Emma was not breathing and that his ex-wife, Jill Whitehead, was performing rescue breathing on the child.

After being intubated, the child was taken to Palestine Regional Medical Center and soon after flown to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, where she died from her injuries the following day, May 5, 2010.

Physicians caring for Emma and the medical examiner, Dr. Jill Urban, testified that Emma had received a fractured occipital bone of the skull, which bruised her brain and caused subdural bleeding that ultimately led to her death.

After conducting the autopsy, Dr. Urban’s official conclusion was that Emma’s death was the result of blunt force injury, with the manner of death deemed to be homicide.

Emma had been under the care of Lance and Jill Whitehead since February of that year, when her parents, Courtney Vaughan and Derek Whitehead, determined that they could not care for their daughters at the time.

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