NEW BOSTON, Texas (KTAL/KMSS) – The defense has rested in the sentencing phase of the Taylor Parker capital murder trial after a morning of testimony from a neurologist who said the convicted killer’s brain is “broken.”
Parker’s defense team has spent the past week making the case for life in prison. The 29-year-old was convicted Oct. 3 by a Bowie County jury for the murder of 21-year-old Hancock and her unborn baby, Braxlynn Sage, on Oct. 9, 2020. The State rested last Monday after prosecutors spent three weeks making a case for Parker to get the death penalty.
“Something is very wrong with her brain, yes,” New York City neuropsychologist Dr. Siddartha Nadkarni told defense co-counsel Mac Cobb Monday morning. “She has frontal lobe dysfunction, frontal lobe syndrome.”
In addition to reviewing Parker’s extensive medical records and reports from Parker’s previous brain scans, Nadkarni says he conducted his own physical examination on Parker at the Bi-State jail in March of 2022. He also ordered a new set of brain scans and an EEG, which he said confirmed what he found in his review of her medical history and his physical examination.
On MRI and PET/CT scans shown to the jury, Nadkarni pointed to gaps in the folds of Parker’s brain, which he says indicates atrophied white and gray matter, brain tissue, in the areas that govern behavior and executive function. He said that explains her impulsivity and lack of inhibition, as well as her inconsistent stories and “confabulations.”
The most atrophied areas of Parker’s brain are in her frontal and temporal lobes, according to Nadkarni, which affects a person’s emotional response and ability to gauge what is good or bad and what is important and not important. He says it also impairs the regulation of emotion and the decisions people make.
“All of that stuff doesn’t work well in her case. And you can see that on both EEG and on the MRI.”
Nadkarni said it is the part of the brain that, when functioning normally, might keep you front telling off your boss in a heated moment.
“People who don’t have this functioning well, they’re erratic,” he explained, comparing the behavior to an alcoholic who exhibits this kind of behavior when they’ve been drinking because alcohol inhibits these functions.
“When we come up with things in our mind most of the time what our brains prohibit,” Nadkarni explained. “It helps us take a second to decide whether it’s the right thing to do or not. People with this dysfunction don’t have those breaks. It’s impulsivity. Things will just be said outright without stopping to think about what you’re saying.”
He also pointed to EEG test results, which he says show the dysfunction resulting from the atrophied neurological tissue in action. He testified that there are multiple areas of her brain that both look abnormal on the scan and show up on the EEG as slowed activity.
“It means that part of the brain is not working. It’s broken,” Nadkarni said. “I would say this is severe dysfunction. It’s hard to lose neurons in your scan. That means something.”
Nadkarni explained that atrophied brain matter means fewer neurons firing, causing dysfunction and abnormal behavior. This can either be because they never developed well or because they deteriorate when they are not used such as in cases of dementia.
“It’s been going on for a long time, that I can definitely say,” Nadkarni testified. “Can’t say it’s been since in utero, but it’s been going on for a long time.”
He also said the abnormal results of this kind of testing cannot be faked.
Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards questioned how Parker could have been as calculated in her scheming as the evidence and testimony suggests if critical brain functioning was the real issue and pushed back on the neurologist’s assertion that confabulation is the same as pathological lying.
In the afternoon, jurors heard from a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and longtime friend of Parker’s late grandmother, who was well-known in the local medical community and worked as an EMT and RN for 40 years. Kim Basinger said Peggy Hebert was very protective of her family, especially Taylor, and that Peggy seemed to be a “stabilizing” influence on her. Hebert died in 2018.
Basinger said she loves Parker and thought of her as her own granddaughter because of her relationship with Hebert, but she testified that she wanted nothing to do with it when Parker asked her in September 2020 to pose as her grandmother to confirm a story she had told Wade about having access to hunting on Luminant land.
Prosecutors showed the jury the text exchange in which Basinger told Parker that dishonesty in a relationship only hurts the relationship and urged her to be honest, even if it’s not the easy thing to do.
Basinger said Hebert alluded to some trouble at home when Taylor was living with her and her mother but that she did not talk much about her private life. She said she had no reason not to believe Parker was pregnant when she announced it on social media in early 2020. She even bought her an infant car seat and talked to her about being in the delivery room for the birth.
The last Basinger says she heard from Parker was the day she was supposed to have a sonogram to determine whether it was time to induce labor.
Before the defense rested Monday afternoon, the jury heard from Austin-based Licensed Master Social Worker and Advanced Practitioner Lauren Elmore, who said she has spent her career “at the intersection of substance abuse and criminal justice.”
Elmore runs The Sobering Center in Austin, which “enhances public health and safety by providing a safe place for publicly intoxicated individuals to sober up as an alternative to the emergency room or jail and, where appropriate, to provide a bridge to recovery,” according to the website.
Elmore said she has also worked to help adult offenders re-enter society and as a consultant with expertise in the area of social work and childhood trauma. She was brought in to assess Parker and her psychosocial history.
Elmore said her “biopsychosocial assessment” was based on five hours of interviews with Parker focused on her childhood in search of biological, psychological, and social factors that could have contributed to her actions.
Her assessment of Parker’s childhood and development revealed a claim of sexual assault by a family friend at the age of 13 that her grandmother allegedly kept from being reported, as well as seemingly oblivious parents who did nothing to help their daughter deal with her emotional and weight issues.
“Is it meant to be some kind of excuse?” defense attorney Jeff Harrelson asked Elmore.
“Absolutely not,” Elmore said. “It’s for an explanation. There is no excuse for her behavior, and in fact, Taylor asked me not to make excuses for her behavior. I think we’re here to understand it.”
The topic of the assault came up as part of an Adverse Childhood Experience assessment used to measure trauma and its impact on future outcomes. According to the CDC, negative experiences in childhood and the teenage years may put children at risk for chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use in adulthood. Elmore said a higher score on the assessment also increases the likelihood the subject will commit a crime or becomes the victim of one, and that said Parker scored an eight. An ACE score of four or higher indicates the patient is at high risk for “toxic stress physiology.”
Elmore also reviewed records in Taylor’s case and interviewed family members and Kim Basinger.
“Because we’d like to get multiple sources, doublecheck and get other people’s perspective, too, because sometimes others see what maybe the client wouldn’t see from the outside.”
Elmore testified that Parker claimed to her that she had been sexually assaulted while at a “drug house,” where her father was visiting a girlfriend. Prosecutors took issue with this claim, pointing out that this never came up until just before the trial and that Parker’s brother had testified he does not remember his sister ever being at that house. But Elmore said she found Parker’s recollections of the sexual abuse believable and not outrageous or exaggerated in nature like the stories the trial has revealed she is known to tell.
“All I know is, the rape as a child doesn’t have a lot of the features of the adult fantastic lies. It all seems legitimate about how a man would approach a child.”
Elmore said Parker told her that her grandmother took her to the doctor she worked for at the time in an after-hours visit after she told her about the assault and that she overheard her grandmother telling the doctor not to report the assault. Basinger had previously testified that she had “butted heads” with Peggy Hebert when she was her supervisor in the ER over reporting suspected physical and sexual abuse as required by law, and Elmore testified that Parker’s recollection indicated Hebert seemed more concerned with protecting the family’s reputation than reporting her granddaughter’s sexual assault.
Elmore said Parker did not offer any identifying information about the person she says assaulted her.
Elmore sidestepped First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp’s questions about Parker’s claims of attempting to take her own life at the age of 14 and why she never mentioned to Elmore any of the several additional attempts Parker has claimed since her arrest.
“Aren’t all suicide attempts relevant?” Crisp asked.
“I’m just here to talk about her childhood trauma.
The defense rested after a little less than 3 days of testimony, calling 10 witnesses that included Parker’s mother, brother, aunt, and grandmother. The jury also heard from a forensic psychiatrist who said Parker is a pathological liar and a manipulative person but that it was hard to predict whether she would pose a threat of violence in the future.
Parker again declined to testify, as she did in the first phase of the trial.
Both sides will have the opportunity to rebut the other’s testimony Tuesday morning. Closing arguments are expected to follow before the jury receives instructions and starts deliberations. That could happen as early as late Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning.