NEW BOSTON, Texas (KTAL/KMSS) – Taylor Parker has admitted to police that she got into a physical confrontation with Reagan Hancock and cut her baby from her womb, but the State of Texas still has to prove Parker is guilty of a capital offense before it can ask a jury to determine whether she should get the death penalty.
Parker, now 29, is charged with kidnapping and capital murder in the death of the 21-year-old New Boston mother and her unborn baby girl, Braxlynn Sage, in October 2020. Hancock was strangled, beaten, and repeatedly stabbed, all with her three-year-old daughter in the house.
Over 12 days of testimony, First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp and Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards called 66 witnesses and presented hundreds of exhibits and evidence to make their case that Parker faked a pregnancy, plotted for months to find a real baby to claim as her own, and ultimately killed Hancock to take her baby in an attempt to keep her boyfriend from leaving her.
On Thursday, Parker’s defense team rested its case without bringing a single witness or presenting any evidence that Parker did not do it. Instead, Jeff Harrelson and Mac Cobb have used the opportunity to question the State’s witnesses about why they did not do more to call Parker out on her faked pregnancy and how anyone could have believed her fantastic stories. They also asked pointed questions about whether the baby was actually alive when she was taken.
Those questions about the baby turned out to be part of the defense team’s unsuccessful attempt to get the capital charge thrown out on a technicality by claiming the State failed to prove Braxlynn had been born and was alive as defined by Texas law when Parker cut her from Hancock’s body, arguing you cannot kidnap a person who has not been born.
It is the kidnapping in the commission of Hancock’s murder that the State argues makes Parker eligible for the death penalty.
Bowie County District Judge John Tidwell denied the defense’s motion for a redirected verdict on Thursday. Now, closing arguments are set for Monday morning and the jury could be deliberating by noon.
But if Parker’s defense team is not trying to prove she did not do it, some might wonder, why have a trial at all?
The answer: Acquittal is not the goal in this case. Parker’s attorneys are trying to keep her off of death row.
If convicted of kidnapping, Parker faces two to 10 years in prison. If found guilty of murder, she faces five to 99 years or life. If convicted of capital murder, Parker faces a sentence of life without parole or death by lethal injection.
Parker could have pleaded guilty in exchange for life in prison, but prosecutors have said they are seeking the death penalty due to the heinous and pre-meditated nature of the crime and because she showed no remorse.
If the jury finds Parker guilty of capital murder in Reagan Hancock’s death, the trial will enter a second phase that will include testimony meant to aid the jury in determining whether she should receive a death sentence or life without the possibility of parole.
During this phase, the jury must decide on specific questions about Parker’s potential for future dangerousness and whether she intended to kill Hancock. If they find that she is and she did, they move on to mitigation.
This is the phase where defendants facing the death penalty have an opportunity to present the individual facts of their lives to the jury. Defense teams can present “mitigating evidence,” which can be used to provide reasons a defendant should not receive a death sentence or ask jurors for mercy. Mitigating evidence can include evidence of mental problems, remorse, childhood trauma, mental illness, and even brain injuries.
If such evidence is presented, the jury will ultimately be asked to decide whether any of it overrode Parker’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong or provides a reason she should not be sentenced to death. If so, Parker would get life in prison.
During this phase, the State can bring evidence and testimony about aggravating factors in the case, as well as their own expert witnesses to rebut testimony offered by the defense.
Parker’s defense team has already indicated it intends to bring in a forensic psychiatrist who will testify to her potential for future dangerousness if the trial advances to the punishment phase. Also on the defense expert witness list: a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in developmental psychosocial history and a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
Parker opted not to testify in the guilt or innocence phase of the trial but could take the stand during the penalty phase if she is convicted. That phase of the trial is expected to begin October 12 and it is expected to last two to three weeks.