Texas Babysitter Faces Execution
By MICHAEL GRACZYK
GATESVILLE, Texas (May 27) - A neighbor in a suburban Austin neighborhood appeared to be the perfect babysitter for Eryn Baugh's infant son and his 2-year-old sister.
"She's the most sweet, endearing person in the world and put forward this good Christian front," Baugh said of Cathy Lynn Henderson, who lived two blocks away. "She could sell snow to an Eskimo."
But just weeks after Henderson started working for the Baughs, 3-month-old Brandon was dead and Henderson had fled the state. The infant's body was found buried 60 miles away with his skull crushed, wrapped in his yellow-trimmed white blanket and stuffed into a box that previously held Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers.
Henderson, 50, is set to die in less than three weeks for the 1994 slaying that made her one of the most hated women in Texas. She would be just the 12th woman among the nearly 1,100 convicted killers executed since capital punishment resumed in the United States in 1977.
Henderson insists Brandon died in an accidental fall and that her decision to bury him and flee was made in panic, not in cold blood.
"It's apparent I wasn't thinking clearly," Henderson told The Associated Press recently from the state's female death row outside Gatesville.
"I think I was in shock, disbelief. I just didn't know what I was doing. That baby was dead. I didn't want to deal with that. There was too much sorrow. It hurt, it hurt," she said, tearing up. "When I look back at it, it does kind of look like I was guilty, doesn't it?"
Henderson's case has been championed by Sister Helen Prejean of "Dead Man Walking" fame. Supporters say new engineering data interpreting Brandon's skull fracture could better support Henderson's contention the child's death was an accident and her life should be spared.
"What I would like to happen is to either get a new trial or charge me with what I'm really guilty of, and murder is not one of them, even injury to a child is not one of them," Henderson said. "I think involuntary manslaughter, negligence, something in those areas, because I did not wake up to intentionally harm Brandon."
Henderson is scheduled to be executed on June 13. It was postponed from last month after her lawyers won a delay.
"We're getting experts, a new kind of expert for head injuries," said Prejean, based in New Orleans. "They look into the physics of it."
Recalling that morning 13 years ago, Henderson said Brandon was cranky, so she was swinging him around to try to calm him.
"I fell. I stepped on a toy. He flew out of my hands. He hit the bottom of the garage, which had been converted to a playroom," she said.
After hitting the concrete floor, he stopped breathing, she said. Henderson said she tried CPR for an hour.
Why not call 911?
"I knew that was a dead end," she replied. "I had tried for too long myself. What good would it have been?"
She fled, driving Brandon's sister and her own preschool daughter to the home of a relative, paying an 11-year-old there $10 to watch them.
"Even though I reacted abnormally, that doesn't make me a bad person," she said, crying. "I just didn't want to face what happened. I felt responsible. I took a life. That is very hard to deal with, especially a child."
Travis County prosecutors and Brandon's parents aren't buying it.
"If a child sustains an accidental fall, we're going to freak out and get help," prosecutor Dayna Blazey said. "We're going to run to a neighbor, call 911. That's human nature - not to put the baby in a wine cooler box, throw it in the trunk of a car and bury it in a shallow grave. Then she flees to Missouri and changes appearance."
A medical examiner testified Brandon's injuries were inconsistent with an accidental fall of about 4 feet but were the equivalent of a fall from a two-story building.
"We're not talking about linear skull fractures," Blazey said. "The entire back of his head was shattered."
But in a new appeal filed late last week, Henderson's lawyers included an affidavit from the medical examiner who had previously testified against her.
Dr. Roberto Bayardo, who retired last year as Travis County's chief medical examiner, said based on new scientific evidence presented to him by the experts hired by Henderson's legal team, he "cannot determine with a reasonable degree of medical certainty whether Brandon Baugh's injuries resulted from an intentional act or an accidental fall."
Eryn Baugh said Henderson had him completely fooled.
"Just tell me what happened that day. Tell me exactly what she did and why she did it. Then she can ask me for forgiveness. I'll probably give it - once she drops the lies and tells the truth. There's been too many years of lying. We just want her to come clean," he said.
Henderson insisted she did her job well.
"I took good care of Brandon," Henderson insisted. "In my mind, I thought I was doing the Baughs a favor by not having to tell them their son was dead."