NEW BOSTON, Texas (KTAL/KMSS) – Now that Taylor Parker has been found guilty of capital murder in the death of Reagan Hancock, the same jury must decide whether she should spend life in prison or get the death penalty.
Texas is currently one of 31 states that supports and allows the sentencing of the death penalty, also known as capital punishment, for certain crimes that are determined to be especially heinous.
Parker confessed to the crime and 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 Parker showed no remorse. That required the state to prove its case at trial before it could ask the same jury to determine whether she should get the death penalty.
Under Texas law, “evidence may be presented by the state and the defendant or the defendant’s counsel as to any matter that the court deems relevant to sentence, including evidence of the defendant’s background or character or the circumstances of the offense that mitigates against the imposition of the death penalty.”
Parker’s defense team will have the opportunity to present the individual facts of her life to the jury, which can include evidence of 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. If so, Parker would get life in prison.
Parker’s defense team has already indicated it intends to bring in a forensic psychiatrist who will testify to her potential for future dangerousness. Also on the defense expert witness list: a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in developmental psychosocial history and a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
The State will also have an opportunity to present evidence and witnesses about aggravating factors in the case and rebut testimony give by witnesses for Parker’s defense. Once each case is presented, Judge John Tidwell will give the jury instructions to answer special questions which will be used to determine the penalties of the case, as required under Texas law:
Special Issue Number 1 asks the jury to decide whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society.
Special Issue Number 2 asks the jury to decide if the defendant actually caused the death of the deceased or did not actually cause the death of the deceased but intended to kill the deceased or anticipated that another human life would be taken.
The jury is not allowed to answer “yes” to either of these questions unless they agree unanimously, and they may not answer “no” unless they have at least 10 jurors in agreement.
If the jury answers “yes” to both the first Special Issue and “No” to the second,” jurors will then be asked to review Special Issue Number 3. This Special Issue asks the jury to take into consideration all the evidence, the defendant’s character, background, and moral culpability in determining if there are enough mitigating circumstances to warrant a life sentence rather than a death sentence.
For the court to issue capital punishment in a capital murder case, the jury must answer “yes” to both Special Issue Number 1 and Special Issue Number 2 and unanimously answer “no” to Special Issue Number 3.
If the answer to either of the first two questions is “no,” or even “yes” on the first two, but “yes” on the third, it’s life in prison without parole.
Parker’s fate comes down to this.
Any judgment of conviction and sentence of death are subject to automatic review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.