Tuesday, September 28, 2004 Print This | Email This     

Scorned lover strikes plea deal before third murder trial opens

By Emanuella Grinberg, Court TV

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. () — With one overturned conviction and a mistrial behind her, Dionne Baughpleaded guilty to bludgeoning her wealthy lover to death in 1996 just asjury selection was set to begin in her third trial on the charges.

"Welost an important state witness to cancer who was primarily responsible forgathering a lot of crucial evidence," Assistant District Attorney Anna Greentold Courttv.com. "We spoke with Mr. Herndon's family and decided to endthis right here."

Baugh was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 more onprobation for voluntary manslaughter.

In 2001, an Atlanta jury sentencedher to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Lance Herndon, asuccessful Georgia entrepreneur with a penchant for juggling a bevy ofmistresses, among whom the Jamaican-born Baugh was one.

Investigators inFulton County, Ga., had their eye on Baugh from the beginning in Herndon'sdeath.

But they didn't arrest her until 1998 on accusations that thespurned lover, realizing her days with her rich and generous lover werenumbered, set out to end things before he did.

Prosecutors believedthe relationship took a turn for the worse July 10, 1996, when Baughdiscovered Herndon in his home with another mistress and flew into a rage.Police arrested her for a misdemeanor charge of criminalharassment.

Although Herndon bailed out the part-time student who was14 years his junior, prosecutors claimed that by that time, the three-timedivorcee wanted the controlling and obsessive woman out of his life, but notbefore she returned the Mercedes he had given her.

Baugh's defenserefuted that theory, claiming that things were on the mend and that Herndonintended to ask police to drop the charges.

But on the morning of Aug.8, 1996, the day of Baugh's scheduled court appearance, Herndon's nude bodywas found dead in his waterbed after suffering multiple blows to the headwith a blunt object.

The three alarm clocks used by the fastidiousbusinessman, who had been recognized by two U.S. presidents and the mayor ofAtlanta for his computer consulting work, had been unplugged.

Policeimmediately suspected someone close to Herndon, but without a murder weaponor much forensic evidence, couldn't file charges.

They zeroed in onBaugh more than a year later, when statements her mother-in-law gave duringBaugh's divorce proceedings from her husband, a pilot for Air Jamaica,revealed that Baugh had visited Herndon in his home the night before hedied, contrary to what she'd initially told police.

Still, Baugh'sattorneys accused investigators of failing to follow up on various otherpossible leads, such as Herndon's other mistresses and their boyfriends, andemployees and business partners he was squabbling with. Herndon's ex-wifetold police he had "a lot of enemies."

"The timeline was extremelyimportant in reaching a conviction in that it proved to directly contradictMs. Baugh's version of the events that took place the night of LanceHerndon's murder," Ben Wilson, one of the jurors to originally convictBaugh, told Court TV.

Nonetheless, Baugh won an appeal in 2003 basedon claims that the state had built an entirely circumstantial case thatrelied heavily on hearsay testimony from the case's leadinvestigator.

Just as jurors began deliberations in the second trial,one of them was found to be "overzealous" after it was discovered that hehad concealed ties to the district attorney's office. He was replaced, butjurors declared they were deadlocked in November 2003.

"I think thatMs. Baugh realized that she couldn't beat the justice system three times ina row," Wilson said of the plea agreement.

Court TV's LenaJakobsson contributed to this report.

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