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Mother of accused takes stand in murder trial

Victim's grandmother recounts part of phone call, "Mom, I had to call 911 - Emerson’s not waking up!"

REGINA – Questions surrounding how young Emerson William Bryan Whitby sustained various injuries filled witness testimony on Friday.

Key evidence in the second-degree murder case that sees his mother - Chelsea Rae Whitby - as the accused party, both Crown and defence lawyers sought to pinpoint exact dates, times, and causes of the bruising on the boy’s body.

Emerson was rushed to hospital on June 10, 2020 after being discovered unresponsive in Whitby’s residence. Hours later, he would be declared brain dead, an autopsy report finding blunt force trauma to the head as the cause.

Continuing from yesterday, the Court heard a May 28, 2020 interview with Taylor Stewart - Whitby’s live-in partner at the time - with Jonathan Boucher from the Ministry of Social Services. Stewart died from suicide on July 20, 2020.

In the interview, Boucher first asked Stewart about bruising on Emerson’s side, which seemed to be in a pattern. While unsure, Stewart hypothesized that perhaps it was from one of his two daughters lifting the toddler while they played. He was also unsure how a mark on Emerson’s ear, or a bald spot on his head developed.

Boucher then asked Stewart about the healing rib fractures found on Emerson’s body after a physical examination, initiated by a report to the Ministry of Social Services.

Stewart claimed the injuries could have been sustained after a fall down some stairs while at Lisa Virtue’s (Whitby’s mother) residence.

The Court heard from a former boyfriend of Whitby’s, who spoke of an incident he viewed as an act of aggression toward the then newborn Emerson

“We were laying in bed, she set him on the bed between us and made a backhanding motion toward him,” said Patrick Earnshaw in response to the question posed by Crown attorney Adam Breker. Earnschaw described the event having taken place late one night after a particularly trying evening where Emerson continued crying, despite their best efforts to appease the newborn. After the incident, Earnshaw placed Emerson in a baby swing, then moved to the couch to sleep.

“I saw it as an aggressive act towards Emerson, and it stood out in my mind,” Earnshaw said.

Under cross-examination by defence counsel Darren Kraushaar, Earnshaw noted that he did not witness Whitby actually strike Emerson, and although they could see each other, the room was not lit.

“You’re not really sure what you saw,” Kraushaar said.

During a line of questioning from Kraushaar about Whitby’s role as a mother, Earnshaw noted she was quite patient with Emerson

“It’s stressful at times, but yes she enjoyed being a mom,” he said of Whitby.

Next to take the stand was Virtue, who was asked details about specific dates between May and June, 2020. Through her testimony, she confirmed a fall from the crib at Whitby’s residence was what caused the bruising on the toddler’s face.

“He had fallen out of the crib,” Virtue said, noting that Whitby informed her about the incident via video call. “I had talked to Chelsea, and told her to watch pupils, how he was behaving.”

“She assumed that he had stood up against that rail that I bought and fell” Virtue continued. “The mattress and everything apparently was on the floor.”

While unseen, both women assumed that Emerson had hit his head on the rail through the course of the fall from the crib.

The crib in question was a convertible daybed, which Whitby had removed the side rail for fear of Emerson climbing on it, then falling from a height. In cross-examination, Virtue explained to Kraushaar that she had purchased and installed a side guard with arms that fit underneath the mattress.

“I told her (Whitby) it was like the one I put on her bed when she was little,” Virtue said.

During the following day, Emerson’s father - Riley Jolly - retrieved the toddler for his scheduled parenting time. After noticing the extent of the bruising, he decided to place a call to the Ministry of Social Services, who ultimately placed Emerson in Virtue’s care for seven days, beginning on May 27, 2020.

Also on the 27th was a visit to Dr. Sharon Leibel for a physical examination. When asked about Emerson’s demeanour during the exam, Virtue commented “he screamed through it all - and grandma cried through it all.”

Virtue was also asked for her account of events on June 10, 2020, starting from when Whitby called at 10:20 a.m. to notify her of Emerson’s state.

“I got a panicked call from Chelsea, she was saying ‘Mom, I had to call 911 - Emerson’s not waking up!’”

Virtue told the Court that she arrived at Whitby’s apartment approximately 10 minutes after receiving the call, describing the scene as “total chaos,” a myriad of emergency vehicles and personnel. Virtue found Whitby in the middle of the parking lot, sobbing. She tried to comfort her daughter after the traumatic experience that just happened.

“She just said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with Emerson - he just wouldn’t wake up!’”

Virtue was also questioned about the origins of various bruises found on Emerson, agreeing with aspects of Stewart’s interview - especially the bruising on the side.

“They were all a little more rambunctious and playing with each other,” Virtue said of when Emerson and Stewart’s girls would play together. “They carried him around like he was their baby doll. I’m sure he was half their weight.”

Kraushaar asked Virtue about the relationship between Whitby and Stewart, to which she smiled and replied “they were a great pair.”

She also addressed the incident of when Emerson fell at her residence, clarifying that there were three steps leading from the back entrance of her home.

“It knocked the wind out of him,” Virtue recalled, noting that Emerson fell onto his stomach. “He did cry, but he recovered fast. It was absolutely God awful. I felt terrible for having my back to him and leaving him there.”

Virtue also noted Emerson bruised easily, stating “he bruised like a peach,” adding that she didn’t make a point of documenting where and when bruising occurred - chalking the bruises up to “just being a boy.”

More testimony will be heard Monday.

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