NEW BOSTON, Texas (KTAL/KMSS) – A Bowie County jury has sentenced Taylor Parker to death for the capital murder of 21-year-old Reagan Simmons-Hancock and her unborn baby, Braxlynn Sage.
Parker was convicted last month for the brutal Oct. 9, 2020, murder and kidnapping that led to the baby’s death. Hancock’s mother found her daughter’s body on the floor of her New Boston living room. Her 3-year-old daughter was at home at the time.
Later that morning, Parker claimed she’d just given birth after being pulled over by a state trooper for speeding and driving erratically. The baby was taken to a hospital in Oklahoma, where she was pronounced dead.
It took the jury of six women and six men about 90 minutes to return with the verdict early Wednesday afternoon.
Prosecutors have said Parker made herself look pregnant, faked ultrasounds, and even had a gender-reveal party, all in an attempt to keep her boyfriend from leaving her.
Parker remained still as Judge John Tidwell read the verdict and polled the jury, but she could be seen shaking and crying as he formally sentenced her to death. Prosecutors hugged Reagan’s family members as deputies handcuffed Parker behind her back and brought her to the stand so that family members could give their impact statements.
“My baby was alive still fighting for her baby when you tore her open and ripped her baby from her stomach in front of her baby girl,” Hancock’s mother Jessica Brookes said in her statement to the court, addressing Parker as an “evil piece of flesh demon.”
“You watched her die. You did not care about Braxlynn, either. Spending so much time making sure you would not get caught.”
Parker appeared to sob on the stand as Brookes continued.
“We all know you think this is about you,” Brookes said, adding that it is not about Parker but about her daughter and her baby and the loss their family suffered as a result of Parker’s actions.
“She was one of the very few – VERY FEW – people on this Earth that cared about you,” Brookes said. “So every time you think to yourself, ‘Oh poor me, nobody cares about me,’ know that’s the truth.”
Brookes says she and her family want to focus now on honoring Reagan and Braxlynn, and in her statement vowed to keep only speak of Parker to remind people of her evil.
“I will continue to remind people…the world…how evil you are for the rest of your life however short that may be!! But only if I hear mention of your name…otherwise, I will not speak of you!! Only of my beautiful baby girl, Reagan, and grand-baby, Braxlynn, who were a light God will continue to use in this dark world!!! You took their breaths….but you did NOT get their beauty and light that will shine for years and years to come!!”
Reagan’s sister tearfully read her statement as her mother stood nearby, occasionally rubbing her daughter’s shoulder in support. Reagan’s widower, Homer Hancock, was in the courtroom as his sister-in-law read his brief statement about having to move in with his parents with their little girl and start life all over again and the heartbreak of losing another daughter he never met.
“The first time I got to hold my Braxlynn Sage, she was cold and lifeless…I will never see her eyes or hear her say, ‘I love you, Daddy.'”
Judge Tidwell had nothing to say to Parker beyond the formal sentencing and moved quickly to get her out of the courtroom.
“You can remove her and take her to death row,” Judge Tidwell instructed deputies immediately following the family’s impact statements.
By 4 p.m., less than three hours after her sentencing, Parker was on her way to the state prison in Gatesville for processing before her transfer to the Mountain View unit, where the state houses female death row inmates.
“A heavy, heavy burden fills lifted. I feel like now we can start trying to heal,” Brookes told KTAL NBC 6. “We don’t have this over our heads we know where she’s gonna be we know where she’s at, and she’s taken care of.”
None of Parker’s family members were in the courtroom for the verdict.
The sentence came after both sides wrapped up their cases this week in the penalty phase of the trial and presented their closing arguments to the jury before a packed courtroom Wednesday morning.
“In her last minutes, we’ll never know what she saw,” Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards told the jury, “but what we know is that Braxlynn spent her living and dying moments in the arms of the person who killed her. And that, if anything else in the world, deserves the death penalty. In what case would you give it, if not this one?”
Using a PowerPoint presentation to review all of the fantastical lies, the planning and blame-shifting, and the inconsistent stories Parker has told since her arrest, Richards reminded the jury that it is up to them to determine what the probability is that Parker will pose a future danger, especially behind bars with other inmates, and asked the jury to think of Reagan’s family in making the decision to put a stop to the lying and scheming.
“Give them peace that she is no longer calling the shots. She has made every decision up to this point. It is not her choice. You are going to make the choice to send her to death row.”
Parker’s defense attorney Jeff Harrelson told the jury that Parker is flawed but human and that her family and the “systems” she relied on failed her when so many people knew she was faking her pregnancy and talked to each other about it but never confronted her directly.
“There was no safety net when everybody said the wheels are off. This is not to blame anybody. This is to give you a fuller picture of Taylor’s system,” Harrelson said.
“Someone somewhere will do something. It will all work itself out. What if someone had said something and changed the course of this? We’ll never know.”
He pointed out that Parker has not had any disciplinary actions against her while she has been in jail and suggested the prosecution exaggerated the chaos and problems she has caused while behind bars, referencing the inmate from the general population she somehow got into her segregated pod to braid her hair.
“Another time, she watched TV for too long. Is she causing a ruckus and chaos in the jail? You saw it. You don’t have to buy everything (the State is telling you). When you look further, it’s just not like that.”
Harrelson also pushed back on expert witnesses that testified for the State that Parker’s pathological lying and manipulative behavior, along with characteristics of narcissistic, borderline, antisocial, and histrionic personality disorders, make her a risk for future dangerousness.
“We agree she had features of all those things. Does that translate into a probability that she’s gonna commit acts of violence in the future? Dr. Nadkarni said there’s no correlation of that.”
Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp came back with a blistering and emotional rebuttal, showing the jury a grisly photo of Reagan’s body from the crime scene. There were muted gasps from some in the gallery who were not prepared to see that image.
“One of the things you can also use is the way that she killed her,” Crisp said. “The close personal nature of this murder…whatever her reach is to bash her skull with a hammer. Did she kneel over her? You heard the medical examiner say that she sawed her open with her alive. WITH HER ALIVE! And then she slashed her throat to make sure he was dead. That’s all evidence of future danger.”
By the time Crisp finished, family members in the courtroom were crying and consoling each other. For the first time in two months of trial, Parker herself was openly crying.
The jury went into deliberations at 11:13 a.m. and came back less than 40 minutes later with a request for a whiteboard and a series of exhibits that have been entered into evidence during the course of the trial, including baby Braxlynn’s autopsy report, Parker’s unsent FBI letters, the puzzle book with hidden messages used in the alleged frame-up plot, and the prayer devotional in which Parker prayed God would put the blame on a fellow inmate.
They also asked for transcripts and a handout prosecutors referenced regarding future dangers, but those were not entered into evidence and could not be provided to the jury.
Jurors reportedly did not have trouble agreeing on the death penalty but wanted to make sure they were properly considering all of the special questions before them as required by Texas law in order to send someone to death row.
They were back by 12:30 p.m. with the verdict.
“I think their quick verdict was a testament to the strength of the case that the Texas Department of Safety put together,” Crisp said. “They went through the evidence in the law and felt that they had plenty of information to make that decision, so I’m very thankful that they saw the evidence the way that the State did.”
“Obviously, we respect the verdict,” Harrelson said after the verdict. “This was a tough, lengthy case factually and emotionally for everybody involved. So obviously we’re disappointed with the outcome, but Taylor will have an automatic appeal with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and see where it goes from there.”
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.
Once the jury found that Parker is potentially dangerous and that she did commit the crime, they then had to consider “mitigating evidence” presented in her defense to show why she should not receive a death sentence or to ask for mercy. Mitigating evidence can include evidence of mental problems, remorse, childhood trauma, mental illness, and even brain injuries.
Parker’s defense team ultimately touched on all of those issues while making their case for life in prison, although the most any defense witness said about remorse was that it can be hard to tell and different people express it differently.
Ultimately, the jury had to decide whether any mitigating factors overrode Parker’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong or provided a reason she should not be sentenced to death. If so, Parker would have gotten life in prison.
The jurors also considered evidence and testimony presented by the State about aggravating factors in the case, as well as their own expert witnesses to rebut testimony offered by the defense.
Final arguments came nearly two months after the trial began on Sept. 12. Over the last eight weeks, prosecutors laid out a case based on a mountain of evidence. From the crime scene to Parker’s social and digital activities to geolocation data and handwriting analysis, several of the expert witnesses said it was the largest they have ever worked.
Over 26 days of testimony, jurors heard from more than 130 witnesses, some more than once.
Some of those witnesses also testified to it being the most gruesome case they had ever seen, the likes of which they never want to see again. It made for days of difficult and emotional testimony. That was one of the reasons Judge John Tidwell limited the trial to four-day weeks. Jurors remained intently focused throughout, and some appeared to be deeply affected by the evidence and testimony.
But there also were more humorous moments than one might expect in a trial of this nature, thanks to some of the more colorful witnesses who took the stand. Whether it was an expert witness throwing shade at Freud or an elderly former inmate hilariously recalling how quickly she flipped on Parker at the threat of accessory charges, those moments provided a brief respite from the seriousness of the proceedings as the trial continued week after week. In some cases, jurors scoffed at some of the more ridiculous details that came up in testimony about Parker’s tall tales.
Prosecutors detailed Parker’s elaborate schemes and audaciously fabricated stories, complete with an alternate universe of parallel and made-up characters. They laid out a timeline that showed Parker’s search for a baby intensify after her ex-husband Tommy Wacasey sent her boyfriend an anonymous tip telling him she was not pregnant and that the hospitals were on high alert. They broke down Parker’s various claims of medical issues and her inappropriate behavior at work, as well as her penchant for stirring up drama among her co-workers.
Several witnesses described an otherwise sweet and “bubbly” young woman who could read a person and adapt in order to gain their trust, but some of those same witnesses also described disturbing encounters with Parker as they watched her face change into a “dead stare.”
Jurors also learned that Parker continued to scheme and cause chaos in jail following her arrest, collecting contraband, passing notes, breaking the rules, and plotting to frame a fellow inmate for the murder by promising money to other inmates in exchange for hand-copying faked confession letters, finding fake witnesses, and planting evidence.
The defense questioned why no one did more to stop Parker if so many people knew she was faking her pregnancy. Harrelson sought to frame the State’s claims about Parker’s motivation as merely a theory. In the penalty phase, they brought in an expert witness to testify that Parker is a pathological liar but that he could not confidently predict whether Parker poses a future threat of harm to others. Parker’s defense team also tried to sow doubt in the jurors’ minds that she intended to kill Hancock and her baby and brought a neurologist in from New York City to testify that her brain is “broken.”
Any judgment of conviction and sentence of death are subject to automatic review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.