Chelsea Whitby, hugging a small stuffed bear, collapsed into tears Tuesday morning as a judge acquitted her of killing her toddler.
Whitby, 27, was initially accused of second-degree murder in the death of her 18-month-old son Emerson on June 10, 2020. Crown prosecutors later reduced the charge to manslaughter, after Court of King’s Bench Justice C. L. Dawson ruled evidence presented by the Crown during a voir dire — a trial within a trial — was inadmissible.
The courtroom gallery was overcapacity Tuesday morning as Dawson ruled Whitby was not guilty of either charge.
The court previously heard that Emerson died from blunt-force trauma.
When he arrived at the hospital the day he died, he had about 20 bruises covering his body and had suffered broken bones. Emerson had no underlying health condition that could have contributed to the injuries, and there was likely more than one incident that caused them, the court heard.
Crown prosecutors Adam Breker and Aly Sparks had argued Whitby caused the injuries that led to her son’s death, but Whitby maintained she doesn’t know how her son was fatally injured.
During the voir dire, which lasted more than two weeks last June, the Crown presented evidence to try to show the relationship between Whitby and her son, in hopes of establishing motive. But Dawson ruled the evidence would not be admissible because it was unreliable.
During closing arguments, the Crown suggested an unlawful act had occurred and pushed for a manslaughter conviction.
On Tuesday, Justice Dawson said Whitby was not guilty of second-degree murder because the Crown failed to prove she intended to kill Emerson, or harm him to the point that could be fatal.
The admissible evidence also left reasonable doubt that Whitby committed manslaughter, Dawson said.
The judge said she believes Whitby did something to her son, sometime between the night of June 9 and the morning of June 10. But “probably guilty” is not beyond a reasonable doubt, and there are other inferences the judge could make based on the available evidence, she said.
Breker, one of the Crown attorneys, told reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday that the Crown will be appealing the decision.
Darren Kraushaar, Whitby’s attorney, told reporters it was a complex case that presented multiple evidentiary issues.
After court was adjourned Tuesday, Kraushaar spoke with Whitby and some of her family. He said she felt a sense of relief after the decision.