Cathy Henderson (pictured with Sr. Helen Prejean) is scheduled to be executed in Texas on June 13 for the 1994 murder of Brandon Baugh, an infant she was babysitting. Henderson would be the 12th woman put to death in the U.S. since capital punishment was reinstated. Since her arrest, Henderson has maintained that the child’s death was accidental. She said that she dropped the baby, fracturing his skull, and then panicked after realizing she could not revive him. She then buried the boy’s body and fled to Missouri, where authorities captured her nearly two weeks later. Henderson said that she is sorry for Brandon’s death and that she feels regret every day for the pain she caused his family. She notes, “I wish there was something I could do to comfort them, and if it’s going to comfort them to end my life for an accident, I hope this gives them comfort.”
Henderson’s spiritual advisor is Sister Helen Prejean, well-known author of “Dead Man Walking.” Sister Helen believes Brandon’s death was an accident. She said that the public needs to understand that Henderson is not a monster. “It’s easy to kill a monster. It’s hard to kill a real human being,” she noted.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Henderson’s final appeal. She is seeking clemency from Texas Governor Rick Perry. View a video interview of Henderson by the Kansas City Star (Windows Media Player.
From the webpage Save Cathy Henderson
ACT NOW TO SAVE CATHY
In February, the United States Supreme Court denied Cathy’s petition for certiorari. This was a huge blow. Her lawyers are pursuing some other “longer shot” options, but if those fail it means her execution, scheduled for April 18, will proceed unless she is granted clemency.
Please help save Cathy’s life by writing letters to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Texas Governor, Rick Perry. The Clemency Letters link provides pointers for writing such letters.
In the meantime, Cathy’s lawyers and a dedicated team are working hard to find some legal means of stopping her execution.
Also from Save Cathy Henderson
Governors are given a very special power over life and death. They are given the power to grant clemency to someone condemned to die. Clemency is an exercise in mercy, a power that is rarely – very rarely – exercised.
It seems mercy is out of fashion.
We need to change that, for Cathy’s sake, for the sake of her daughters.
Please write a letter asking for clemency for Cathy Henderson. Write to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and to the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry.
Note that we have an updated address for letters to the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The envelope should be addressed to:
Board of Pardons and Paroles
Executive Clemency Section
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, TX 78757
The enclosed letter should be addressed to:
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles & other Board Members
If addressed this way, the letter should find its way to Ms Ramirez, who handles the clemency packages. She will fax a copy to each board member.
Points for your clemency letters
Before you write, read the points below. We are very fortunate to have had advice from a former member of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on exactly what constitutes an effective clemency letter. The same points apply when writing to the Governor.
The key thing to remember is that the goal of your letter is to save Cathy’s life. This letter is not a good time to rail against the inequalities and injustices of the system – doing so will render your letter less effective.
We also recommend you read Tony Rizzo’s article in the Kansas City Star, Uncommon Path to Death Row. It shows how Cathy’s punishment appears out of kilter with others sentenced to death (a punishment usually reserved for the “worst of the worst”). Not to minimize Brandon’s death and his parents suffering, but put in this context, the Board may find there is room for mercy.
(If you do wish to write a letter about the injustices in Cathy’s case and in the Texas system, consider addressing it to the editor of one of the local papers, such as the Austin-American Statesman.)
How to write an effective clemency letter
Things to remember
* All of the members of the Parole Board will almost invariably believe that the judicial system is essentially fair and just. Therefore, they believe that Cathy has received a fair trial, has received adequate appeals, and is guilty.
When writing your letter, it does not matter whether you agree with this or not: this is what the Parole Board members believe and it is the context in which they will make their decision.
* The members of the Parole Board are appointed by the Office of the Governor. They will almost invariably reflect the views of the governor, Rick Perry.
* Most members of the Parole Board are not attorneys (currently, four of the seven members are not attorneys), so they generally are not going to consider the legal problems in a case. The members of the Parole Board do not think of their role as being a court of appeals. They view clemency letters essentially as pleas for mercy, and they will need overwhelmingly good reasons to grant that mercy.
Things to do
The bulk of your letter should focus on these points:
* Emphasize Cathy’s humanity. If the Parole Board members are going to consider clemency, they need to be able to see Cathy as a human being and not as a murderer. One thing you can do is stress that Cathy is a parent with children.
* The Parole Board members want evidence that the person for whom you’re requesting clemency has changed for the better. In Cathy’s case, it would be good to note that she has taken advantage of having spiritual advisors, culminating in Sister Prejean serving as her spiritual advisor.
* The Parole Board members will take into account a person’s criminal history. People with extensive criminal histories have no chance at clemency. In Cathy’s case, she had no felonies and no violent offenses in her background, so highlight this in your letter.
Things to avoid
Your letter might briefly mention the following things, but you should generally avoid them, and the focus of your letter should not be on these issues:
* Philosophical discussions about the shortcomings or the immorality of the death penalty. As far as the members of the Parole Board are concerned, the death penalty is a fact of law, and it’s not their role to change it. They have probably heard all the arguments before.
* The facts of the case. Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, the members of the Parole Board are not going to be weighing the merits of the case or Cathy’s guilt or innocence. It would not be out of line, however, to discuss the perceptions of the facts. In Cathy’s case, there is no disputing that Brandon Baugh died. It can be argued, however, that it was an accident. Realize, however, that they will be inclined to believe the forensic report on the injury to Brandon’s head.
* Avoid personal attacks on the people who have been involved in the case. Again, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, the members of the Parole Board are going to be inclined to believe in the integrity of the process and the people who are a part of the process.