After nine days of trial by jury, Jennifer Jill Whitehead, 41, of Palestine, received an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for the Capital Murder Charge with regard to the death of her 16 month-old step-granddaughter Emma Nichole Whitehead.
The trial was held in the 369th District Court of Judge Bascom W. Bentley III. Whitehead was represented by Palestine Attorney Stephen Evans. The state was represented by Anderson County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Watkins with assistance from District Attorney Doug Lowe.
Whitehead was being tried for the death of Emma Nicole Whitehead, who died at a Dallas hospital one day after being transported to Palestine Regional Medical Center with extensive injuries in May of 2010. The autopsy on Emma’s body performed at the Southwestern Institute for Forensic Sciences revealed that she died as a result of “Blunt force trauma” and listed the manner of death as “homicide.” Testimonies for the trial included EMS, doctors, nurses, a medical examiner, law enforcement and relatives of the victim.
During the trial the jury heard that Emma hard been in the care of Lance and Jill Whitehead for approximately three months, due to the fact that her parents were usable to care for her at that time, when Lance Whitehead called 911 to report that Emma was not breathing on May 4, 2010 and that his ex-wife, Jennifer Whitehead, was trying to resuscitate her with rescue breathing.
Emergency responders reported that when they arrived on the scene Emma was covered in bruises from head to toe. She was taken to Palestine Regional Medical Center and then care flighted to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas where she died the following day.
Doctors and the medical examiner reported that Emma’s injuries included a fractured occipital bone in her skull, with the occipital bone broken down to the base of her skull – a sign of blunt force trauma, which led to her death.
Law enforcement officers that interviewed her reported inconsistencies in Jennifer Whitehead’s accounts of what occurred prior to the 911 call. Jennifer, reportedly, initially told officers that Emma had fallen out of her playpen, however the story and account shifted several times, with information in the account changing several times. A video of an interview with Jennifer Whitehead by law enforcement was also admitted as evidence and played for the jury.
After just three hours of deliberations, the jury came back with a “guilty” verdict on Friday, March 1, 2013. Jennifer Whitehead waived the right to sentencing by the jury for the charge of Injury to a Child and accepted a plea bargain of 15 years.
Judge Bentley gave Whitehead credit for the 941 days she has already served in jail.