Opening arguments in the trial against Michael Allen Howard, 43, were heard Monday in the 266th Judicial District Court. The trial began at about 1:30 p.m., after an Erath County jury of seven women and five men were seated.
Howard is charged with the second-degree felony offense of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon - a knife - after allegedly stabbing a young mother in the back in March.
The state's case
In opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Sterling Harmon told the jury that Howard's alleged victim, Brandi Todd, 29, a mother of two who lives in Morgan Mill, was at Stephenville City Park on Sunday, March 14, enjoying an early spring day when at 3:30 p.m. "her life was changed forever" when a "total stranger plunged a knife into her back."
Harmon said several people at the park witnessed what happened and two helped Stephenville police officers apprehend Howard.
He said the facts of the assault will be "fairly clear."
Harmon said Howard attempted to hide the weapon and also knew at the time of the attack that what he had done was wrong.
"We believe the evidence is going to show that Michael Howard was angry at the world," Harmon said, adding that Howard committed the assault to draw attention to himself and get help for his problems.
"Michael Howard is guilty," Harmon said.
Howard's court-appointed attorney, Heath Allen, approached the jury with a box of documentation.
Allen said the documents outlined more than two decades of Howard's mental problems, and his attempts to get help from MHMR (Mental Health and Mental Retardation).
"What did MHMR do?" Allen asked the jury. "What did they not do?"
Allen said he will present evidence which proves that Howard is "not guilty by reason of insanity."
"I believe the evidence will support that," Allen said.
Following opening arguments, District Attorney Jason Cashon called several witnesses to the stand who were at the park when Todd was attacked, including two men who helped apprehend Howard, a few women who offered Todd assistance until medical help arrived and Brandi's nine-year-old daughter, Olivia.
Billie Bob Smith said he was at City Park with his wife and friends when he first noticed Todd playing with her two children. Smith said he later noticed a man, who he identified as the defendant, walking toward the playground.
Smith said Howard walked up behind Todd, made a sudden motion and appeared to strike her in the back. He said Howard's fist was closed and "something black" was in his hand.
Smith said Todd looked "shocked" and "stunned" but said "nothing," until after about 15 seconds. He said it was then that Todd through her hands up, turned pale and suddenly screamed for help.
Smith said he initially went to assist Todd, then began following Howard.
"He began to run across the street when I started up that direction," Smith said, adding that he had "no doubt" about the assailant's identity.
Smith's friend, Michael Glasgow, also testified and said a woman who had offered Todd assistance immediately after the attack yelled that she had been shot and told him to "watch" Howard as he fled the scene. Glasgow said he never lost sight of Howard and started following him as he left the park toward Graham Street.
Glasgow said Smith eventually pulled up in his pickup, and the men continued to pursue Howard. He said when Howard heard the truck following him, his walk turned into a "slow jog."
Glasgow's girlfriend, Angela Porter, took the stand and said when she approached Todd to offer help, she was covered in "quite a bit of blood," and her children were standing in front of her.
"The girl asked if her mother was going to die," Porter said, adding that she took off her jacket and applied pressure to Todd's wound and attempted to reassure Todd and her children.
The last of the witnesses who were at the park on March 14 that testified Monday was Todd's daughter, Olivia.
Olivia said after she, her mother and brother played a game of chase, she went to the playground. She said she had been playing for a few minutes when she all of a sudden she heard her mom scream.
"I thought she was just playing with us," Olivia said. "I thought it was a trick."
But Olivia said when she saw the blood she "started panicking."
"I just kept asking, 'Is she going to be okay?'" Olivia said. "I was very concerned about her. I didn't want her to die."
Olivia said despite the injury and despite the fact that her mother could not feel her legs, she was "holding my hand and telling me it was going to be okay.
Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday, when Todd is expected to take the stand.