“I gave her apple juice and I sat her on the couch. I told her that I loved her, gave her a hug and kiss, and left,” remembers Kim Woodruff.
But her babysitter, Chris Routh, says the toddler was obviously sick. “She was crying and she looked very tired.”
What happened next was a nightmare for the families of both children. Emily, who had battled a stomach virus just a few days earlier, began to throw up again. Chris, left alone with a sick toddler and her 3-year-old brother, was soon overwhelmed.
When Lewis Woodruff called home at noon, Chris told him that Emily had been sick. When she heard the news, Kim Woodruff said she was coming home, but by then Chris told her that Emily had fallen asleep.
When the child woke up, Chris tried to give her a cracker. “She started acting very tired like,” he says. “That’s when I heard the kind of weird, coughing, gurgling noise. She wasn’t breathing.”
Chris says he patted her on her back and nothing happened. He then called 911. Following the dispatcher’s instructions, Chris administered CPR until the paramedics arrived.
Alerted by a panicky phone call from his son, Charlie Routh rushed to the store and took Kim Woodruff home.
Paramedic Panel Ellis reached Emily first. When Kim arrived, she recalls, “Christopher is white as a sheet, sitting in a chair in our dining room. So, I look at the paramedic and the paramedic said, ‘Your babysitter did everything he’s supposed to do’.”
She recalls that Chris just sat in the chair with his head in his hands. “I look over at Christopher and Christopher immediately said, ‘I’m sorry Miss Kim’.” And I said, ‘For what? You saved my little girl’s life’.” And he said, ‘I’m just sorry’.”
Now, she believes that he meant he was sorry “that things got carried away and that she got hurt.”
But Chris says, “Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I didn’t know what to say to her.”
By the time Emily arrived at the hospital, her condition was desperate.
And then the paramedic, Panel Ellis, discovered possible evidence of sexual assault.
The doctors later discovered Emily had a brain injury.
“The neurologist told me that the swelling in her brain was the equivalent of falling out of a four-story building or being in a car accident without a seat belt and hitting a tree going 45 miles an hour,” says Kim Woodruff.
The police were alerted immediately. They suspected that Emily had been sexually assaulted and then shaken to death.
They questioned Kim and Lewis Woodruff. Lewis denied any inappropriate acts towards his daughter.
Meanwhile, the Rouths refused to allow the police to talk to Chris.
“They wanted to put him in a room and play that good cop/bad cop thing with him,” says Sissy Routh.
“Without an attorney, without anybody friendly to him,” adds her husband.
“I didn’t understand that,” says Kim Woodruff. “I thought, if you’re innocent, why do you have to have an attorney present?”
Two days later, Emily Woodruff was pronounced dead.
Gwinnett County Medical Examiner Steve Dunton, who performed the autopsy, says he found “all of the findings that are consistent with a child that has been shaken.”
Danny Porter, the District Attorney for Gwinnett County, had heard enough.
“You’ve got a medical examiner telling you it’s shaken baby,” he says. “You’ve got an EMT who said that he saw gaping vaginal wounds. And you’ve got a defendant who won’t talk to you, who’s the only one who was with the child at the time of its injuries.”
Just one week after Emily died, Chris Routh was arrested. Even though he had yet to enter the ninth grade, 14-year-old Chris was charged as an adult.
Could this 14-year-old honor student — a boy who says he loves children —really be guilty of such an unspeakable crime?
The next thing Chris knew, he was in a concrete room, wearing an orange jumpsuit. Bail was denied. He was to spend the next 361 days in a jail cell. He got to see his parents twice a week for two hours. He had just turned 15.
“He was treated like a yard-dog criminal,” says his mother.
And for good reason, says Gwinnett County DA Danny Porter. “The likelihood of Routh coming into contact with other children presented a danger to the community, and that was the basis of our position,” he says.
Kim Woodruff reluctantly began to believe that the boy she had trusted to baby-sit her daughter had actually killed her.
The Woodruffs couldn’t ignore what the evidence suggested, that their daughter Emily died from acute head trauma, and there were signs of a possible sexual assault.
Later, they remembered a conversation they had with Chris a week before Emily’s death: “He said, ‘Miss Kim, there’s some bruises on Emily’s face. Where did that come from?’ And I said I don’t know anything about that.”
That same week, Emily had been throwing up, and had a persistent fever. Lewis had taken her to a hospital emergency room, where the doctor determined that Emily had a stomach virus.
But the doctor also noticed the bruises, and thought they might be evidence of child abuse. As required by law, the doctor reported what he saw to the Georgia child protection agency. The agency failed to investigate, and Emily’s case fell through the cracks.
At the time, the Woodruffs convinced themselves that the doctor had simply overreacted.
And so, two days after the trip to the emergency ward, on the day Emily stopped breathing, Chris was once again baby-sitting for the Woodruffs.
Sissy and Charlie Routh are absolutely sure their son is innocent. “This is a child who won’t let you kill bugs,” says Sissy. “He can’t even stand for the dogs to be disciplined. And I know I’m his Mom and I can sit here and tell you this, but I have never seen him blow his cool.”
They believe the police jumped to the conclusion that Chris was guilty.
Charlie says, “He never considered another option: either the parents did it, or the 14-year-old babysitter did it. He never once looked at the third option, and that was that God called her home.”
The Roths believe that what happened to Emily had nothing to do with Chris, that Emily was much sicker than anyone knew.
The idea that Emily was extremely ill - fatally ill - and that her death had nothing to do with being shaken, would become the cornerstone of Chris’ defense.
After spending nearly a year in detention, Chris was allowed to go home to prepare for trial. He was placed under house arrest, and had to wear an ankle monitor.
His future hangs in the balance. Will it be freedom, or life in prison?