Judge recommends new trial for Texas woman on death row


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and Photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE


Posted on May 23, 2012 at 8:53 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 23 at 10:38 PM

AUSTIN -- An Austin woman who's spent 17 years on death row -- for killing an infant -- could get a new trial.  A Travis County Judge says Cathy Lynn Henderson's conviction should be overturned.  

Senior Criminal Judge Jon Wisser presided over Henderson's first trial.  He told KVUE News Wednesday he wrestled with this decision for two years.  In the end, he felt the new research on infant short falls is information a jury needs to hear.

In 1994, Henderson was baby-sitting three-month old Brandon Baugh.  He died from a head injury.  She claimed he accidentally fell from her arms. 

During her trial, the Travis County medical examiner, Dr. Roberto Bayardo, testified the baby's injuries could not have resulted from being dropped.  Years later, Bayardo said new research made him less confident.

"I think if you took away Dr. Bayardo's testimony at the first trial that the jurors would not have convicted Ms. Henderson," said Wisser.

Wisser says it was important to separate the research involving a possible fall from Henderson's behavior immediately after the baby's death.  She buried Brandon 60 miles away and then left the state.

"I believe it was very difficult for the jurors to separate the death of the infant from Ms. Henderson's subsequent behavior," said Wisser.

Wisser says he could.  That's why, in 2008, he wanted to hear new, compelling, expert testimony on both sides.  Brandon's father wasn't buying it.

"It is extremely difficult," said Eryn Baugh, Brandon's father.  "We came within two days of having this over with and having her executed and getting on with our lives.  Now we are 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."

Wisser says Henderson got a fair trial at the time.

"But in the 16-17 years (since) things have changed," said Wisser.  "We have more scientific proof and evidence that I thought a jury should have the opportunity to consider."

So far, there's no timetable on when the Court of Criminal Appeals will rule on Wisser's recommendation.