NEW BOSTON, Texas (KTAL/KMSS) – Taylor Parker is set to become the seventh woman on Death Row in Texas, following her sentencing Wednesday in Bowie County for the capital murder of Reagan Hancock and the kidnapping her unborn baby, Braxlynn Sage. The baby did not survive.
The last woman to be handed a death sentence in the state was Kimberly Cargill in June 2012 for the slaying of her developmentally disabled babysitter in Smith County, who was set to testify against her in a custody battle.
None of the women currently on Death Row in Texas are scheduled for execution.
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, six women have been executed in Texas since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, more than any other state, according to Death Penalty Information Center.
The last woman to be executed in Texas was Lisa Coleman, on September 17, 2014, for torturing and starving her girlfriend’s 9-year-old son to death.
The last woman to be executed in the U.S. was Lisa Montgomery in January 2021. It was the first execution of a female inmate carried out by the federal government since 1953, and her case is chillingly reminiscent of Parker’s. She was convicted of using a rope to strangle an expectant mother to death and using a kitchen knife to cut the baby girl from her womb. Afterward, Montgomery tried to pass the baby off as her own. Although the murder took place in Missouri, she was housed in federal prison in Texas before her execution.
Texas death row is mostly a man’s world. Since the beginning of 2010, Texas has executed 129 convicted criminals. Only three of them have been women, and women account for just 3.1% of inmates on Death Row in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Parker was transferred within hours of her sentencing Wednesday to the Christina Crain Unit in Gatesville for processing before she is moved to the Mountain View Unit, where all of the state’s female Death Row inmates are housed. Parker appeared on the state’s official list of female Death Row inmates on Monday, Nov. 14.
TDCJ Director of Classification and Records Timothy Fitzpatrick testified at trial that inmates can be processed into the state prison system the same day they are sentenced by the court and that this is more common in death penalty and high-profile cases than it is in life without parole cases.
When a defendant is sentenced, the county is responsible for building a penitentiary packet, or “pen packet,” which includes a history of the inmate’s conduct in their jail, the judgment from the court, and a police report with details of the case. The Bowie County Sheriff’s Office started preparing Parker’s pen packet before her sentencing so that her transfer to Gatesville could be expedited. As part of the intake process, all inmates are screened for drugs and tested for IQ, and fill out a questionnaire about any “Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Fitzsimmons says this is all part of building an individualized plan for how each inmate will be incarcerated.
Within 48 hours of arrival, inmates on Death Row receive a 148-page offender orientation handbook and given a rundown of the rules governing prison life. They are kept in a restricted area and not allowed to work. Mountain View Senior Warden Andrea Lozada testified that the prison staff watches each new inmate’s behavior for any signs they will be a risk to security, not only to staff but to other death row inmates.
The Mountain View Unit is in a building separate from the rest of the prisoners at the TDCJ complex. The female inmates on Death Row live in single-person cells measuring 60 square feet. They have a bunk, a combination toilet, sink and drinking fountain, a stool with a metal desk, solid steel doors, and a window. They only are allowed out of their cell to shower and for two hours daily for recreation time unless they work.
All jobs for female Death Row inmates are at the discretion of the warden, and the work is done inside the cell block. The inmates must exhibit very good behavior, follow the rules, be respectful to staff and never attempt to manipulate, and not pose a safety threat. The kinds of jobs female inmates on Death Row can do are limited to making things like blankets and pillows. They are supervised at all times, and all tools are inventoried.
Fitzpatrick said the most control the TDCJ has over any inmate is on Death Row. He said inmates there do not have any “walking around” privileges. Their food is brought to them in their cell. Any time they are leaving their area, they are completely strip-searched first, restrained at the wrists and ankles, and escorted by two correctional officers. All of the hallways are closed off, with no other inmates around. They go from “point A” to “point B” with no detours.
Like the general population and the ad seg pod at the Bi-State jail, Death Row does have a dayroom between the two rows of cells. They have a single television, and they vote on what to watch for the two hours a day they are allowed to be out. If they are “work capable,” inmates can be in the dayroom together. If not, they will be in the room by themselves.
Visitation is behind glass with no contact and they have to be approved. Family members have to show their relationship, and the prison checks to make sure they are not former inmates or prison employees. Death Row inmates can have up to 10 visitors on their list and they can only make updates to that list every six months. Work-capable inmates can have up to one visit per week, and these visits can last up to two hours. Visits with spiritual advisors and attorneys do not count against the weekly visit limit.
Death Row inmates can make commissary purchases of up to $85 every two weeks, and these purchases are monitored closely. All items purchased from the commissary must be for the offender’s personal use and for its intended use.
Sick calls are conducted inside the Death Row building, and the nurses or doctors as needed come to the inmates. The only reason they might go to the medical building is if they need an x-ray, and then it is under close guard with no others around. Even church consists of what Fitzpatrick described as “in-cell study.”
If for some reason they have to leave the prison, such as to go to the hospital in Galveston, Death Row inmates travel by themselves in a van with at least two guards and a supervisor. They do not travel on buses with other inmates like those housed in the general population do.
A dozen corrections officers are hand-selected by the warden for assignment on Death Row, with tenure, ability, experience, and inmate management skills taken into account.
“While there might be other places throughout the facility that might not be the ratio we would like because of staffing, Death Row is not going to be affected by that,” Fitzpatrick testified. “Regardless of staffing shortages that might be faced at this prison, that’s never gonna affect the staffing on Death Row.”
“Regardless of how short I am on staffing, when it’s Death Row, it definitely will have the staffing that’s required because of security,” Lozada confirmed on the stand. “They follow the rules, know human management, and recognize manipulation. They get a lot more training to make sure they don’t fall victim to any type of inappropriate behavior.”
The six other women housed at the Mountain View Unit have been there between 10 and 27 years. They range in age from 49 to 64. At 29, Parker will be the youngest.
Erica Yvonne Sheppard, 49, was convicted along with a co-defendant in the 1993 murder of a 43-year-old woman in her home in order to rob her of her car. She has been on Death Row for 27 years, longer than all of the other women.
Darlie Lynn Routier, 52, has been on Death Row for 25 years following her conviction in the 1996 stabbing of her two young sons, Damon and Devon.
Brittany Holberg, 49, is on Death Row for the 1996 murder and robbery of an 80-year-old man. The victim was stabbed more than 60 times and had part of a lamp shoved down his throat. She has been there for 24 years.
Linda Carty, 64, is the only British woman on Death Row in the United States. She was convicted in 2002 of orchestrating her 20-year-old neighbor’s slaying and abducting the woman’s infant. Carty denied involvement. Three men convicted as accomplices received long prison terms. Carty got death. She has been there for 20 years.
Melissa Lucio, 54, has been on Death Row for 14 years for her conviction in the murder of her 2-year-old daughter in 2007. Her execution was delayed in April as she continues to fight for exoneration.
Kimberly Cargill, 55, was sentenced to death in 2012 for the slaying of her developmentally disabled babysitter in Smith County, who was set to testify against her in a custody battle. She has been there for 10 years.
The State of Texas has executed four people in 2022 and has one more execution scheduled this year. As of Nov. 11, six executions are already scheduled for 2023.
Texas, which is the second most populous state of the Union, has executed 577 offenders since capital punishment resumed in 1982 — more than a third of the national total — with the most recent being Tracy Beatty on Nov. 9 for beating and strangling his mother to death in 2003.