UPDATE: After the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Judge Wisser’s earlier ruling, in December 2012 Cathy’s murder conviction and death sentence were overturned and she was moved to Travis County jail awaiting further action by the prosecutors. She is still waiting, over two years later.
Cathy Henderson has been on death row in Texas since 1996 for the death of three-month-old Brandon Baugh. Cathy has always maintained Brandon’s death was an accident, but the prosecution painted her as a monster who killed Brandon for no reason at all.
The testimony of the prosecution’s medical forensics expert was crucial in Cathy’s conviction, but it’s clear now that that testimony was gravely in error.
What the prosecution’s expert said then…
The prosecution said Cathy murdered Brandon, but they could offer no motive, no evidence whatsoever of intent.
The Travis County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr Roberto Bayardo, testified that Brandon’s injuries could not possibly have been caused accidentally and that the nature of his injuries absolutely “proved” that Cathy deliberately killed the baby by a murderous blow to the head. Bayardo said Brandon would have had to have “fallen from a height higher than a two-story building,” or have had his head “run over by a car” or have been “involved in a motor vehicle accident” to receive such injuries.
After hearing such black-and-white testimony, no wonder the jury convicted Cathy.
What he says now…
In 2008, 12 years after Cathy Henderson was sent to death row, Dr Bayardo changed his mind.
Before her trial in 1995, Cathy’s counsel had asked the Court for the funds necessary to hire an expert to perform a biomechanical investigation; the Court denied the motion without comment or explanation. When her post-conviction lawyers finally managed to get such an analysis done and presented Dr Bayardo with the findings, he recanted the evidence he gave at trial.
Dr Bayardo, whose evidence was crucial in getting Cathy convicted, now believes it is impossible to determine whether Brandon’s injuries were caused by an accident or a deliberate act.
Here’s what Sister Helen Prejean had to say about Cathy’s case in a letter to members of her order:
Cathy was condemned to death for murdering a baby. That’s what the Texas prosecutor claimed. But I believe Cathy’s version of what happened. Cathy was babysitting with little Brandon and, to stop him from crying, was swinging him around when, barefooted, she stepped on a sharp toy, lost her balance, and the baby flew out of her arms, hit the floor, and died. It was an accident, but at trial there was miserable defense for Cathy to tell her story and examine forensic evidence to show that the baby could have died as a result of such an accident. The plight of the poor: no defense for Cathy, who sits on death row, and a venal prosecutor, who presented her as a monster and now sits in the legislature.