Today the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the recommendation of Judge Jon Wisser that Cathy Lynn Henderson should receive a new trial based on evolving scientific understanding of infant head trauma. Henderson was convicted and sentenced to death in Travis County for the 1994 murder of three-month-old Brandon Baugh. While she was baby-sitting him, Brandon suffered from a head injury that prosecutors said was deliberately caused by Henderson but that she claimed was an accident.
According to the Austin American-Statesman (“Henderson granted new trial in baby’s 1994 death,” December 5, 2012), former medical examiner Roberto Bayardo “testified at Henderson’s trial that it was ‘impossible’ to attribute the boy’s extensive head injury to an accidental fall. Later, Bayardo said advancements in the understanding of pediatric head injuries indicate that relatively short falls onto a hard surface could produce injuries similar to those he discovered during Brandon’s 1994 autopsy.”
The Austin Chronicle reports that three judges disagreed with the appeal court’s finding (“Henderson Granted New Trial,” December 5, 2012):
Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Judge Michael Keasler joined in Judge Barbara Hervey’s conclusion that just because science has changed and evolved – and thus, cast doubt on a conviction – that doesn’t mean that there is any “ground on which relief should be granted.”
The case now returns to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who must decide whether to retry Henderson – and more importantly, whether to again seek the death penalty.
Henderson is one of 10 women on death row in Texas.