NEW BOSTON, Texas -- The first step began last week in picking a jury to decide the fate of a woman accused of murdering a pregnant New Boston mom and taking her unborn child in October 2020.
Two thousand summonses were mailed out Friday to Bowie County residents with instructions to report for juror qualification later this month in the capital murder trial of Taylor Rene Parker, 29, aka Taylor Morton and Taylor Waycasey. The state is seeking the death penalty for Parker in the Oct. 9, 2020, death of Regan Simmons Hancock.
At a pretrial hearing Wednesday morning, 202nd District Judge John Tidwell said those who receive a summons will be given one of two times to report the morning of June 29 for qualification at the New Boston High School auditorium.
"I needed a place where we could have several hundred people sitting together," Tidwell said.
To qualify for jury service a person must meet certain criteria including being at least 18, a U.S. citizen, a Bowie County resident and able to read and write. Tidwell said those who qualify for jury service will be given a questionnaire to complete and a date to return in August for individual questioning by the court, state and defense.
"I'm only going to take up official qualification and exemptions. I'm not going to take up excuses," Tidwell said of his plan for June 29. "Major medical issues I'll take up, but everything else I'll take up at voir dire."
"Voir dire" is a term used for jury selection which means "to speak the truth."
Opening statements are scheduled to begin Sept. 12.
Tidwell addressed a recently filed defense motion asking for a delay in the trial by reviewing a scheduling order for the case established in January 2021.
"I feel like addressing the motion now would be premature," Tidwell said. "If we need an extra week or two, I'd be amenable to that. If we need a day during the trial to visit with experts, I'd be amenable to that."
Tidwell said he built in months of extra time in the case's scheduling to avoid the need to move the trial date.
First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said discovery in the case is ongoing as the state continues to acquire evidence, including "things coming from the jail," such as interviews with inmates housed with Parker and recordings of jail phone calls.
Tidwell denied defense motions challenging Texas death penalty laws but granted a defense motion he referred to as "reveal the deal."
Parker's lead defense attorney, Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana, said he wants to know if the state has any agreements with potential witnesses.
Should any witness be offered an incentive to testify, such as a plea deal in a criminal case, they must disclose the arrangement to the defense in advance of trial. Crisp said it is her office's policy not to offer deals to witnesses.
"We have interviewed several inmates at the county jail for issues that have come up since her (Parker's) arrest," Crisp said.
Members of Hancock's family sat together at the hearing Wednesday as they have at all of Parker's previous pretrial appearances.
A Texas state trooper pulled Parker over in DeKalb, Texas, not far from the Oklahoma border, just after 9:30 a.m. the morning of Oct. 9, 2020, according to a probable cause affidavit. Parker allegedly was performing CPR on the infant girl in her lap and the umbilical cord appeared to be coming from her pants.
An ambulance transported Parker and the baby to McCurtain Memorial Hospital in Idabel, Oklahoma, where the baby was pronounced dead and doctors determined Parker had not given birth.
Approximately 10:20 a.m. the same morning, Hancock's mother discovered her daughter's body in the living room of the home Hancock shared with her husband and 3-year-old daughter in New Boston.
Parker and Reagan Hancock were friends, according to records. Reagan Hancock was nearing her due date and she and her husband had already chosen a name, Braxlynn Sage Hancock.
Parker allegedly convinced her boyfriend she was pregnant and often made social media posts supporting her claim. The boyfriend reported to police the couple held a gender reveal party in advance of Parker's fictitious Oct. 9 due date to celebrate the arrival of a baby that never truly existed. The boyfriend reported that he expected to meet Parker, then 27, at noon Oct. 9 at a hospital in Idabel for a planned, induced labor and delivery.
Parker is facing capital murder and kidnapping charges involving the baby and may be tried on those charges later. She is being held without bail in the Bowie County jail.
If convicted of capital murder, she faces death by lethal injection or life in prison without the possibility of parole.