May 23, 2012 Source : http://www.statesman.com
Cathy Lynn Henderson, once two days from execution for the 1994 death of an infant she was baby sitting, should have her murder conviction and death sentence overturned, a Travis County judge has recommended.
District Judge Jon Wisser said scientific discoveries into the nature of head injuries — and a change of heart from the prosecution’s star witness, former medical examiner Roberto Bayardo – means no reasonable juror would convict Henderson if presented the new evidence at trial.
“Testimony of the state’s chief experts was, at bottom, scientifically flawed,” Wisser wrote in findings dated May 14 and delivered to the appeals court Tuesday.
After reviewing new evidence via testimony and briefs, Wisser recommended that the Court of Criminal Appeals dismiss Henderson’s conviction and return her case to Travis County, where she may face “any indictment or charges” that prosecutors choose to pursue in the death of 3-month-old Brandon Baugh.
Henderson claimed that Brandon died after slipping from her arms and falling about four feet to the concrete floor in her Pflugerville-area home. She said she panicked, burying the boy’s body in a Bell County field before fleeing in Missouri, where she was found and arrested 11 days later.
The search for the boy’s body and hunt for Henderson dominated headlines in February 1994.
At Henderson’s 1995 trial, Bayardo testified that it was “impossible” to attribute the boy’s extensive head injury to an accidental fall. The only explanation, he said, was a deliberate and forceful blow struck by Henderson, adding that Brandon would have had to fall “from a height higher than a two-story building” to sustain a similar injury.
But in a 2007 affidavit and in testimony before Wisser, Bayardo said recent advancements in the understanding of pediatric head injuries indicates that relatively short falls onto a hard surface could produce similar injuries to those he found on Brandon during a 1994 autopsy.
“Based on the physical evidence in the case,” Bayardo said, “I cannot determine with a reasonable degree of medical certainty whether Brandon Baugh’s injuries resulted from an intentional act or an accidental fall.”
Bayardo, now retired, also said his autopsy report, which concluded that the child was a homicide victim, would today list the manner of death as undetermined “because of the new information” about pediatric head injuries.
The Court of Criminal Appeals will determine whether to accept Wisser’s recommendation. It can rule on his submission, request further briefing or schedule oral arguments. A final decision on Henderson’s fate is likely to be months away.