Parents hope inquiry will reveal 'whole story' of Edmonton baby's death

Dani Isabella Jean died in May, 2013, three weeks after she was taken into foster care. The baby was only six weeks old. A fatality inquiry into her death started Wednesday.

'My daughter shouldn't have been apprehended,' mom says

Kuna Sauve and Paul Jean, the parents of Dani Jean, hope a fatality inquiry gives them answers about their daughter's death. 0:54

​Dani Isabella Jean was only six weeks old when she died.

By that time, the tiny infant had spent half her life in foster care, apprehended because of concerns she may have been abused.  

The baby died more than three years ago. Her biological parents say they've been left in the dark until now.  

"For three years, I haven't known the whole story," Dani's biological mother, Kuna Sauve, said outside court Wednesday.

"I never got the story of what happened. I just know that my child died."  

"We were lied to about how she died from the get-go," biological father Paul Jean said. "We were denied access to any of the documents until now."

The couple was granted standing at a fatality inquiry that began Wednesday morning into their daughter's May, 2013 death. That gives them the right to question witnesses.

Foster mom first to testify

Foster mother Crystal Martin and her husband Eric took Dani Jean into their home when she was three weeks old.

"She was very tiny," Crystal Martin told the inquiry. "Very beautiful."

Martin said there were initially concerns the baby had suffered some abuse.  

Dani Isabella Jean in photo taken while she was still in her biological parents' care. (Family photo)

"She opened her eyes," Martin testified. "It was quite apparent her eyes were very yellow, which is normal with jaundice and babies. She had red lines in her eyes and they were quite apparent. They just didn't seem normal."

A pediatrician ordered an ultrasound. But the inquiry was told it revealed the red lines in her eyes were not the product of shaken baby syndrome. Over time, the lines faded.

Outside court, the baby's biological mother called the doctor's suggestion her child had been shaken while in their care "shocking and disturbing."

"I don't know how to process that," Sauve said. "Because it never happened. Somebody should take responsibility. My daughter shouldn't have been apprehended in the first place."  

Sauve and Jean had a visit with their baby the day before she died.  

"I held her and she was smiling," Sauve said, holding back tears. "She slept most of the time. But when she was awake, she was smiling and it looked like she was trying to giggle."  

'A greyish colour to her'

Crystal Martin testified that on the last night of the baby's life, she swaddled Dani and placed her in a portable crib in the master bedroom, right beside her side of the bed

She said Dani had been sleepy all that day and slept through the night. Usually she woke up around 3 a.m. to eat.  

Martin said she picked up the baby early Saturday morning and laid down beside her on top of the covers on her bed. She told the inquiry the infant was tightly wrapped in a receiving blanket and still appeared to be asleep.  

Paul Jean and Kuna Sauve, speaking outside the Edmonton courthouse about the fatality inquiry into their daughter's death. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Martin got out of bed to check on another child in the house. When she came back to the master bedroom around 5:30 a.m., she couldn't spot the baby on her bed. She asked her husband, "Where's the baby?"

Her husband woke up and spotted Dani in the middle of the bed.  

"He went to pass her to me," she said, fighting back tears. "Her arm fell out of the blanket. Then he just pulled her back into himself and turned on the lights. He knew something wasn't right."

They realized something was wrong.  

"I could see her eye was fogged over," Martin said. "There was a greyish colour to her."

The couple called 911 and performed CPR. But it was too late to save her.  

The inquiry has been told the medical examiner conducted a complete investigation into the death. No criminal charges were ever laid. The official cause of death was undetermined, but with a footnote that identified sudden infant death syndrome as the likely cause.

Mother tortures herself with thoughts

Kuna Sauve said she tortures herself every day wondering if Dana would still have died if she had stayed with her biological parents.

"I don't really think so," Sauve said. "I just can't really believe that what has been said so far about her being colicky, crying a lot, not eating. The three weeks she was in our care, she rarely ever cried."

Crystal and Eric Martin continue to foster parent. They no longer take in infants.

Dani's father wonders if there's a double standard.

"If a child died on our watch in our home," he asked, "what would be happening to us? What kind of repercussions would we as a family have to endure?"

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston