Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Austin woman on death row granted new trial in infant slaying

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After spending 17 years on death row, an Austin woman convicted of slaying a three-month-old boy has been granted a new trial.

Cathy Lynn Henderson, now 55, was sentenced to death for the 1994 capital murder of Brandon Baugh in Pflugerville, whose skull was bashed while she was babysitting him. The infant’s body was found stuffed in a wine cooler carton and buried in a field outside Temple, about 50 miles north of Henderson's home.

Now, according to an opinion by The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, six expert witnesses presented by Henderson’s lawyers reveal new “developments in the science of biomechanics.” Their testimony supports Henderson’s claim the child fell accidentally onto concrete.

The medical examiner at Henderson’s original trial told the court Brandon’s fall being accidental was impossible. The examiner now believes "there is no way to determine with a reasonable degree of medical certainty” that the child’s injuries were intentional, according to the court’s opinion.

The medical examiner’s doubts first came to surface shortly before Henderson’s scheduled execution in the summer of 2007. A court order issued that year by now retired Senior District Judge Jon Wisser indicated the 1995 medical expert witness testimony was being questioned based upon "new scientific developments," which subsequently reprieved her execution.

After Brandon's death, Henderson was arrested in Independence, Mo., where she tried to assume a new identity after leaving her own children in the care of a relative in Bell County. Henderson claimed she fled in a panic.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg issued the following statement:

A material State's witness at Henderson's trial, the Medical Examiner, has changed his opinion about the cause of Brandon's death.

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.

Some information was compiled from past wire reports from The Associated Press.

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