Texas House Passes Bill Named After Stephenville Women Paralyzed by Attacks

The Todd-Hogland Act aims to fix a loophole in state law and enhance punishments for certain aggravated assaults that result in devastating brain or spinal injuries

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Lawmakers in Austin are one step closer to closing a loophole in state law regarding punishment in certain aggravated assault cases.

The Todd-Hogland Act passed the House floor on Wednesday without opposition – named after two women in Erath County who survived brutal attacks by total strangers.

“It just seems like yesterday,” said Brandi Todd of Morgan Mill in Erath County.

It’s been 13 years to the month since her life changed forever.

“Some days it seems like forever, some days it doesn’t,” she said.

In March 2010, Todd took her young children to a Stephenville park to play.

“It started out as a really nice day,” she recalls.

Brandi Todd
Brandi Todd before the attack.

Suddenly, a man she didn't know walked up from behind as she sat on a bench and stabbed her in the spine. She was paralyzed from the waist down.

“It could’ve been a lot worse, it could’ve been a child,” she said.

Her attacker – Michael Howard – admitted to having mental health issues and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He's due to be released in seven years or less.

“It’s frustrating because he’ll get to get out and lead a ‘normal life’ And I’ll still be sitting here in a wheelchair,” Todd said. “My kids will still have to help me, my parents. This won’t change for me. What’s done is done. But I just keep reminding myself that we have a chance with this bill.”

A few years after Todd's case, Jamie Hogland was also paralyzed after being shot in the face by a stranger who mistook her apartment for a drug dealer's in 2017. Originally from the Houston area, she was a student at Tarleton State University at the time.

Jamie Hogland

Her attacker was also sentenced to the max punishment of 20 years because he was a stranger – a loophole that frustrated local prosecutors and other community members at the time.

“They suffered for the rest of their lives because of these injuries,” said Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash. “If you can’t explain it, then maybe it shouldn’t be the law."

The Todd-Hogland Act, filed by state representative Shelby Slawson (R-59), aims to close that loophole. After passing in the House as HB 28, it still needs to go before the Senate as SB 598.

In similar aggravated assault cases – such as those involving domestic partners or even drive-by shootings – the law has been reformed over the years to allow punishment of up to 99 years or life in prison. However, because Todd and Hogland’s attackers were not known to them and were not committing the crime from a vehicle, the maximum punishment allowed is 20 years in prison – despite both victims suffering from life-altering injuries.

“This hole in the law leaves stranger-on-stranger assault that results in paralysis or other permanent problems for someone – the maximum sentence is 20 years. That’s the same punishment as an attempted but failed murder,” said Nash.

This new law aims to match that punishment for aggravated assaults with a deadly weapon that causes a brain or spinal injury that permanently paralyzes the victim or leaves them in a persistent vegetative state, regardless if they are a stranger. Crimes like the ones inflicted on Todd and Hogland would move from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony.

“This will give prosecutors, judges and juries the tools they need to enact justice for people like Brandi and Jamie,” said Nash.

These two cases bear similarities but are far from isolated to Stephenville, he added.

“It can’t be unique to Stephenville and Erath County,” Nash said. “It was certainly something that jolted our community because extreme violence like this thankfully is rare but is upsetting.”

If the bill passes the Senate, it could become law in September.

Jett Smith, Erath County Assistant District Attorney, worked the Hogland case. He said this is the third attempt in getting the bill to pass.

“In the future, should we encounter these types of cases – that will have the ability to give a jury the power to send somebody up to life in prison,” said Smith. “Brandy, unfortunately, is serving a life sentence for what happened to her. And I believe her attacker deserves the same. Unfortunately, we can’t change the past or the law as it was back then. We hope to do that in the future.”

Hogland passed away two years ago after a battle with cancer.

Todd – who recently lobbied for this new bill in Austin – said she'll keep fighting for justice for other families.

“It means a lot, because not a lot of people get this opportunity to make a big impact for people that they don’t know. They don’t know me. So it is meaningful,” she said.

Brandi Todd
Brandi Todd and her children

In the years since her attack, Todd said she has forgiven her attacker.

“The forgiveness wasn’t for him, it’s not about him. It was for me. I needed that. That doesn’t absolve him of what he’s done. He’ll have to live with that,” she said. “I’m not scared. I’m not really angry at him anymore either. I was for a while but you can’t live in anger.”

She said she has also lived her life to the fullest – going to school, riding horses again and most of all, focusing on her family. Her two children, who were 4 and 8 at the time of the attack, are now a soon-to-be driving 17-year-old and a 21-year-old adult.

“I’ve really become proud of my strength,” said Todd. “I’ve learned that I’m able to get back up and keep moving. Because that’s the only option you really have.”

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