Austin woman convicted in baby's death gets new trial

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News

khou.com

Posted on December 5, 2012 at 7:21 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 5 at 11:23 PM

AUSTIN -- Cathy Lynn Henderson was babysitting 3-month old Brandon Baugh in 1994 when he died from an injury to his head. Henderson said she accidentally dropped the baby, a position she has maintained over the 17 years following her conviction in May of 1995.

"I feel like I've been very unjustly tried, and I believe that I'm charged with something that is absolutely not true," Henderson told media in a 1995 interview. "I had control over it and I'm sorry, that's all I can say."

She was sentenced to death based in part on the forensic testimony of Travis County medical examiner Dr. Roberto Bayardo, who told a jury, "The infant would have had to fall from the height higher than a two-story building." Bayardo concluded that the injuries clearly and unequivocally indicated homicide.

However at a hearing in 2007, Bayardo testified that new advances in biomechanical science caused him to rethink his conclusion, saying an accident could have been to blame after all. At the same hearing, a number of forensic scientists discussed recent revelations discovered using crash test dummies and infant cadavers that revealed short distance falls onto a hard surface often result in significant pediatric head trauma.

"I think if you took away Dr. Bayardo's testimony at the first trial, that the jurors would not have convicted Ms. Henderson," said Senior District Judge Jon Wisser, who asked for a retrial for Henderson in May of 2012. On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Wisser's request.

"A material State's witness at Henderson's trial, the Medical Examiner, has changed his opinion about the cause of Brandon's death," Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said in a statement. "I believe justice requires that a new jury hear the case, which was the position I took with the appellate court.  We will try the case again.  I will review all the evidence at the trial and at the subsequent hearings to determine whether the State will again seek the death penalty."

"Everyone has tried to do the right thing as sensitively as possible," Henderson's attorney Jani Masseli told KVUE Wednesday. Masseli and a team of attorneys filed a successful motion to stay Henderson's execution in 2007 based on the new evidence. It will be many months before a new trial date is set, and Masseli says Henderson, now 55, will remain incarcerated. "It's a terrible tragedy what happened to the child, and they just want to make sure the trial is fair and all due process is given to Ms. Henderson."

In dissenting opinions, three of the nine criminal appeals judges said the new evidence wasn't enough to change the outcome of the case, pointing to Henderson's erratic behavior after the baby's death, including burying the baby in a wine cooler box in a shallow grave just outside Waco before fleeing the state.

"It's extremely difficult for us to be back in the courtroom," Brandon's father Eryn Baugh told KVUE in a 2007 interview. "We came within two days of having this over with and having her executed and getting on with our lives, now we're back in a courtroom and hearing what is basically a bunch of junk science that is basically going on over the death of my son."

"If was a cold blooded killer, if I was a murderer, I would think I would just take a body and just throw it in a dumpster or the river or something," Henderson insisted in 1995. "I mean to me that would be the cold-blooded thing to do."

Both families are now headed to yet another courtroom, where a new jury will decide the case.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL OPINIONS

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