Thursday, 31 May 2007

Condemned woman seeks reprieve based on new ways of analyzing baby's death

Condemned woman seeks reprieve based on new ways of analyzing baby's death

Cathy Lynn Henderson
Cathy Lynn Henderson gave an interview April 17 from Texas women's death row, where she awaits execution for the 1994 death of an infant in her care.

A Texas babysitter facing execution for killing an infant in her care says new scientific evidence supports her claim that she accidentally dropped the child and did not intentionally kill him, as prosecutors alleged in her trial.

Moreover, the medical examiner who helped send Cathy Lynn Henderson to death row for killing 3-month-old Brandon Baugh has said that, in light of the new evidence, he no longer stands by his original opinion that the child's death resulted from an intentional act on Henderson's part.

With less than three weeks before her scheduled execution, lawyers for Henderson filed an application last week asking that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals review Henderson's case based on new research using biomechanics in analyzing infant head injuries.

In the application, which also asks for a stay of her June 13 execution, her lawyers claim that new research in the field of infant head trauma shows that Brandon could have died from an accidental fall and not necessarily at Henderson's "murderous" hands.

Her lawyers argue that advancements in modern science have "eclipsed" the body of knowledge that was available to medical witnesses in Henderson's capital murder trial, and that jurors might not have convicted her if they had knowledge of the scientific evidence that now exists.

Since her arrest nearly 13 years ago for Brandon's murder, Henderson has maintained that the infant accidentally fell from her arms after she stepped on a toy while spinning him around. In a panic, Henderson claims, she fled her home with Brandon's body and buried him in a cardboard box before fleeing the state for Kansas City, Miss., where she was arrested one week later.

A Travis County jury convicted Henderson and sentenced her to death in 1995, based largely on the testimony of retired Travis County chief medical examiner Roberto Bayardo, who told jurors that Brandon sustained blunt-force trauma to the back of his head inconsistent with an accidental death.

Bayardo, who retired in 2006, testified in Henderson's trial that Brandon's injuries were too severe to have resulted from a "short-distance fall" out of Henderson's arms. The injuries Brandon sustained were consistent with force generated by falling from a two-story building or a car running over his head, Bayardo theorized.

After reading reports from forensic experts retained by Henderson's lawyers, Bayardo wrote in an affidavit submitted to the court that he was unable to stand by the opinion he offered during trial testimony.

"Had the new scientific information been available to me in 1995, I would not have been able to testify the way I did about the degree of force needed to cause Brandon Baugh's head injury," Bayardo wrote in an affidavit signed May 19. "I cannot determine with a reasonable degree of medical certainty whether Brandon Baugh's injuries resulted from an intentional act or an accidental fall."

Henderson's experts agree with Bayardo's conclusion at the autopsy that Brandon died of blunt-force trauma to the back of his head. But the experts point to recent studies and biomechanical analysis in dismissing Bayardo's claim that the injuries could not be attributed to a "drop" or a "short-distance fall" of four feet or less.

In four pages of physics and trigonometry equations incorporating the child's vital statistics with concepts of velocity and impact, Dr. Kenneth Monson attempted to determine the force with which Brandon's head might have hit the ground and compared that to common thresholds for infant brain damage.

Monson concluded that Henderson's version of the incident could not be ruled out, as did three other experts in the fields of forensic pathology who reviewed his report.

In affidavits submitted to the court, none of Henderson's experts faulted Bayardo for his findings because they said the research was unavailable at the time. Since Henderson's trial, the three doctors noted, mathematical calculations like those used in biomechanics had become an essential tool in forensic investigation.

Even so, the doctors remarked that none of the calculations could be used to look into the mind of a defendant and ascertain intent.

randon's injury and death was an accident. However, because of the new scientific information and analysis now available to scientifically evaluate Brandon's injury and death, neither may anyone prove that Ms. Henderson intentionally caused it," Dr. John Plunkett wrote in an affidavit submitted with Henderson's application. "It is impossible for any qualified scientist or physician to conclude, whether to a reasonable degree of medical certainty or beyond a reasonable doubt, that any intentional and deliberate act caused Brandon Baugh's death."

Henderson's execution is scheduled for June 13.

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