SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES HARSHER PENALTIES FOR STRANGER ASSAULTS
(AUSTIN) — Prosecutors could seek up to 99 years in prison for assaults by strangers that result in permanent disability from brain or other neural damage under a proposal advanced by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday. Under current law, the maximum sentence for such kinds of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is 20 years in prison. In an effort to stave off incidents of domestic violence or stalking, state law allows for enhancement to a first degree felony if the victim of an assault has a previous relationship with the offender. The proposed law, HB 18, sponsored by Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell, would extend this same flexibility to assault cases when the offender is unknown to the victim and the crime involves a deadly weapon and results in paralysis or a persistent vegetative state. "HB 28 would allow the same enhancement when the result is extreme injury to the victim without regard for any type of relationship between the assailant or the victim," said Birdwell.
The bill is named the Todd-Hogland Act, after two women from Birdwell's district who were permanently disabled by assaults in unrelated incidents. Brandi Todd was 34 when she was stabbed in 2010 by a stranger while she was at a park in Stephenville, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. She said she and her children have suffered since the attack. "My son doesn't remember a time when I could walk, when this happened he became developmentally delayed. My daughter battles anxiety and they both have PTSD," said Todd. "The monetary cost of becoming paralyzed is unbelievable: medications, wheelchairs, and modifications to vehicles and homes are just the tip of the iceberg."
Such an injury is life-changing not just for the victim, but for all of the victim's loved ones, said Jessica Hogland. Her daughter, Jamie Hogland , was just 19 and a student at Tarleton State University in December 2017 when a stranger knocked at her door. When she opened it, the man, seeking a drug dealer at the wrong house, shot her in the face. Hogland's injuries would result in permanent quadriplegia. "Life for our entire family changed in that moment," said Hogland. Jamie would tragically die from an illness in 2021, but her mother said the time between her shooting and death was hard. "She was constantly at doctors appointments, all kinds of specialists, in severe pain and anguish," said her mother.
"These random acts, in the cases of Ms. Hogland and Ms. Todd, shocked our community, shocked our jurors, shocked our law enforcement community," said Alan Nash, the Erath County district attorney who oversaw the prosecution of these crimes. "It was very difficult to explain to our jurors in our community why this punishment was lesser than for domestic violence, drive-by shootings, and other types of aggravated assault." Both men were sentenced to the maximum of 20 years, but the witnesses who testified Tuesday said their suffering would go on for longer. "The stranger who stabbed me will be free in seven years and I serve the life sentence," Todd told members.
Committee chair Senator John Whitmire planned to move the bill swiftly out of his committee, sending it to the floor for full consideration by the Senate. "Go back home and tell your constituents that you and the families came to Austin and made a difference," Whitmire told Nash prior to the vote.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, May 10th at 11 a.m.