Accused's mother testifies during second-degree murder trial
Warning: This story contains details some readers may find disturbing
Chelsea Whitby notified her mom every time her son, Emerson, got a bump or bruise.
But, Whitby could not explain to her why the 18-month-old wasn’t waking up the day he died.
“Chelsea always told me about any bonks and she would report it to Riley [Emerson’s father] as well,” Lisa Virtue, Whitby’s mother, said while testifying at the Court of King’s Bench on Friday.
Whitby, 27, is on trial for second-degree murder in Emerson’s death. He died from blunt force trauma to the head on June 10, 2020. Whitby has pleaded not guilty.
Whitby called her mom that morning after she found her son unresponsive in bed.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with Emerson. He just won’t wake up,” Virtue recalled Whitby telling her when she arrived at the family’s home.
The hours that followed were “total chaos,” Virtue said.
The grandmother did not see Emerson until they were at the hospital. She told the court “he looked awful” and “very different” from when she last saw him the night before.
He had marks on his forehead that she did not recall seeing before, Virtue testified.
Virtue went to check on Emerson the evening of June 9 after Whitby called to tell her the boy had vomited an unusual amount, she said. It was the second time the toddler had puked that day.
“She [Whitby] always followed my advice,” Virtue said.
“I always spent lots of time with them.”
Virtue testified she put him to bed and instructed Whitby to make a doctor’s appointment for the following day. The appointment was booked, but Emerson never made it there.
The court previously heard Virtue had custody of Emerson from May 27 to June 3, 2020, as a result of a safety plan implemented by the Ministry of Social Services. Social services got involved when Emerson’s father filed a report following an incident that left the toddler with two black eyes. Whitby was allowed to see her son during this time.
Emerson went back into Whitby’s care following June 3. However, Virtue had checked in on the boy at least once a day.
Virtue told court she was not concerned with Emerson’s condition during the week he stayed with her. However, she noted he no longer walked up and down the stairs like he used to.
The Crown prosecutor presented several photos and videos of Emerson to the courtroom. Virtue identified the causes for a number of marks and bruises on the boy in many of the images. She testified some bruises came from the way people picked him up and the way he slept on the beaded lanyard attached to his soother. Other marks were from Emerson falling out of the crib, falling off of the stairs and hitting his head on the coffee table, Virtue said.
Virtue said Emerson, whom she called her “pride and joy,” bruised very easily.
She started noticing more bruises and “finger marks” on Emerson after Whitby’s boyfriend’s daughters began spending time at the house.
“They carried him [Emerson] around like he was their baby doll,” she said.
Whitby was a nervous, protective and attentive mother to an adventurous, quick toddler, according to Virtue.
She said Whitby had grown into her parenting role in the latter part of Emerson’s life, becoming calm and relaxed as a mother in the months leading up to his death.
'AN AGGRESSIVE ACT TOWARDS EMERSON'
Patrick Earnshaw, Whitby’s ex-boyfriend, told court the mother appeared to get physical with her newborn son in the early days after his birth.
Earnshaw, who dated Whitby from October 2018 to August 2019, had been present for Emerson’s birth and was staying at Whitby’s home.
One night, the new mom was struggling to breastfeed and Emerson would not stop crying, he said.
“We were trying to calm him down,” Earnshaw said.
“She [Whitby] was crying, upset [and] frustrated.”
The room was dim, but Earnshaw told the court he saw Whitby set the baby on the bed and make a backhanded swat at Emerson.
“I understood that she’d been through a lot, but I saw it as an aggressive act towards Emerson,” Earnshaw said.
Earnshaw said the baby was “completely unharmed” and did not sustain any marks or injuries following the incident.
During cross-examination, Earnshaw told court this was the only incident that raised concerns about Whitby’s parenting.
“It’s stressful at times, but yes, she enjoyed being a mom,” he said, adding Whitby was a worrier who took Emerson to the doctor for every concern she had.
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