88th LegislatureCriminal JusticeIssuesCommittee Approves Bill to Increase Maximum Sentence for Assault Leading to Paralysis, ‘Vegetative State’

Lawmakers heard from a woman who survived a stabbing that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The perpetrator received a 20-year sentence.
March 16, 2023
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After hearing testimony from survivors of violent crimes on Tuesday, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee passed House Bill (HB) 28 by Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville) to increase the possible sentence for aggravated assault leading to a “permanent vegetative state” or “irreversible paralysis.”

Lawmakers heard testimony from Brandi Todd, who suffered a stabbing that left her paralyzed from the waist down. She was with her kids playing at the park when an assailant approached her from behind and used a knife to nearly sever her spinal cord. Tuesday was the 13th anniversary of the assault.

“It’s my stab-iversary. 13 years ago today … I was probably being careflighted by this time in the afternoon,” Todd said.

Todd wept as she told committee members about her family. She described her daughter as a “hurricane in skin” and grieved that her son witnessed the stabbing when he was four years old.

Reflecting on her life before the assault, Todd said she was an athlete and played basketball. She said she loves to travel and enjoys “beaches, bonfires, and barbecues,” among other activities.

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Even in view of the extraordinary violence she suffered, Todd said her life is the “best case scenario” for someone in her situation. She discussed how expensive her health care needs are, and said both of her children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. It was only a small window into what the perpetrator inflicted on her, including osteoporosis and fears of pressure sores.

“I’m asking you to stand for those who can’t stand for themselves. The man who stabbed me will be free in seven years, and I serve the life sentence,” Todd pleaded.

The committee also heard testimony from Jessica Hogland, the mother of Jamie Hogland, who was 19 years old and a student at Tarleton State University when she answered the door to her apartment and was shot in the face by an assailant, leaving her paralyzed. Jamie has since passed away.

“In her own words, she felt like an infant, totally helpless. The physical and emotional toll that the shooting caused is unimaginable,” Jessica told lawmakers. “It’s more than just being in a wheelchair, life was never the same from the point of the shooting.”

Jamie’s life was characterized by therapy, hospital visits, surgeries, and round-the-clock care, Jessica explained, urging the committee to pass HB 28.

“If Jamie was here, I know she would be pleading for a change, but unfortunately Jamie can’t be here today because she’s gone on to Heaven,” Hogland cried.

“I’m asking you to do something to get peace of mind and a sense of justice for future victims and their families. The offender that hurt my daughter received a 20-year sentence, and he could probably be out in just 10 years. Once he’s released, he will then go back and proceed with his life like normal, whereas his actions caused lifelong damage and pain.”

In Texas, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is a second degree felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The minimum sentence is two years in prison, and the courts also have the option of probation.

The proposed Todd-Hogland Act would include language in state law that elevates the crime to a first degree felony if the victim suffers “a traumatic brain or spine injury to another that results in a persistent vegetative state or irreversible paralysis.” First degree felonies carry a sentence of five to 99 years or life imprisonment and a maximum $10,000 fine.

The committee reported Slawson’s bill favorably without any amendments by a vote of 9 to 0. Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) has authored a similar piece of legislation in the Texas Senate, Senate Bill (SB) 598.

In a social media post later that day, Slawson praised Brandi and Jessica for their bravery.

“I am in absolute AWE of the strength and tenacity of these women and humbled to fight for better justice through a bill carrying their names,” Slawson wrote.

HB 28 now proceeds to the Calendars Committee, which has the option of scheduling the bill for consideration on the House floor. A version of the legislation passed the same committee unanimously in the last legislative session, but the House did not take up the bill.

The 55-year-old male who assaulted Todd was convicted in 2010 on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The jury reportedly took half an hour to give him the maximum penalty.

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the convict is incarcerated at a psychiatric prison in East Texas and will be released by March 14, 2030. An official with TDCJ told The Texan the unit where he is imprisoned is a maximum security facility. Even if the male serves his entire sentence, he will be only 62 years old.

The convict who shot Jamie is also in prison in East Texas and will be released at the latest on December 13, 2037, when he will be in his mid-forties.

A copy of Slawson’s bill can be found below.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."