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'I wanted evidence': Victim's father documented previous injuries leading up to son's death

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Warning: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.

Riley Jolly detailed several injuries he observed on his son, Emerson Whitby, prior to the 18-month-old’s death, during testimony at Court of King’s Bench in Regina on Thursday.

Chelsea Whitby, Emerson’s mother, is standing trial for second-degree murder in her son’s death. He died from blunt force trauma to the head on June 10, 2020.

The Crown’s evidence points to a series of injuries that Emerson sustained while in his mother’s care in the months leading up to his death.

Whitby, 27, and Jolly, 29, ended their relationship before Emerson was born and were not together at the time of his death. The parents had an informal custody agreement. Emerson spent one or two days a week and every other weekend with his dad, in line with Jolly’s work schedule.

Jolly first noticed unexplained bruises on his son’s ribs in mid-April, he testified, which is when he began documenting the injuries through photographs.

“If bruises were to persist, I wanted evidence just in case,” Jolly testified.

In the following weeks, Jolly observed bruises on Emerson’s ear, cheek and eye, as well as a bald spot on the top of his head.

Whitby offered explanations for some injuries, but not for others, Jolly testified. However, Whitby typically notified Jolly of Emerson’s injuries when they happened.

May 26, 2020, was the tipping point for Jolly. He testified to picking up his son from Whitby that afternoon when he noticed Emerson had two black eyes.

“His eyes were very, very swollen,” Jolly said.

“She [Whitby] said that he [Emerson] had received them from falling out of the crib.”

Jolly took his son to the doctor, who recommended they go to the ER if his eyes get worse. That night Jolly wanted to take Emerson to the hospital, but Whitby refused.

The next day, Jolly filed a report with social services and submitted six photos he had taken of Emerson’s injuries over the previous six weeks.

As a result, social services placed Emerson in the care of Whitby’s mother for one week. After that, the boy went back into Whitby’s custody. However, she had to check in with her mother daily.

Jolly looked after his son on June 9, the day before he died.

Nothing about his son’s behaviour struck him as odd that day, he testified. Emerson was healing from his black eyes and “was acting more himself,” Jolly told the court.

Jolly returned Emerson to Whitby’s home that night. Within a couple minutes of being there, the toddler vomited up his supper. Jolly helped clean up the floor before he left.

When he saw his son the next day, Emerson was unresponsive in hospital. He had new bruises above his eye and on his forehead, Jolly said.

CROSS-EXAMINATION

During cross-examination, Jolly told the court the custody agreement with Whitby had been going well in the months leading up to Emerson’s death.

There were no red flags when it came to Whitby’s parenting except for one incident involving a pillow in early 2020, Jolly said.

Whitby shoved Emerson’s face into a couch pillow and held him there for four to five seconds, Jolly testified, after she told him the challenges she had with putting the boy to sleep.

Jolly said Emerson could be considered an energetic, quick “dare-devil” kid. However, he admitted his behavior changed slightly the afternoon before his death.

Jolly told court Emerson seemed tired and napped longer than usual. He agreed it was “unusual” and “alarming” when Emerson puked at home.

“He could have gotten sick,” Jolly said.

Defence lawyer Darren Kraushaar argued Whitby was forthcoming with Emerson’s injuries and would give Jolly an explanation for his bruises when she had one. Jolly agreed.

Crown witnesses are expected to continue testifying on Friday.

The trial is scheduled until April 14.

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