The trial of a Stephenville man accused of delivering a life-altering blow to a young Morgan Mill mother as she watched her two children play at Stephenville City Park in mid-March continued in the 266th Judicial District Court Tuesday.
Michael Allen Howard, 43, is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony, for the attack that left Todd paralyzed.
While Howard's court-appointed defense attorney, Heath Allen, does not dispute that his client stabbed the 29-year-old mother, he is working to convince the jury that his client is not guilty by reason of insanity.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Jason Cashon and Assistant District Attorney Sterling Harmon assert that Howard was not insane, but "angry at the world" and committed the offense to draw attention to himself and get help for his problems.
The police interview
In the second day of testimony, two law enforcement officials took the stand, including Sgt. Orlando Gaitan, who interviewed Howard about three hours after he allegedly plunged the knife into Todd's back. An audio recording of the hour-long interview was played in court Tuesday.
Before the jury heard the recording, Gaitan said Howard had a clear memory of the day's events and also knew what he had done was wrong.
Throughout the recording, Howard blamed the attack on MHMR (Mental Health and Mental Retardation) for not responding to his problems or providing the care he needed. Howard said he had been an MHMR patient for 20 years.
"I tried to get them to help me," Howard said, adding that he had been suffering from severe paranoia and anxiety for about three months. "If MHMR had done their job, this wouldn't have happened. I tried."
Howard also told the investigator that one of two things fueled the attack. He said after being at City Park for about an hour, he encountered two college-aged kids who shouted comments that agitated him.
"I feel like a robot," Howard said to Gaitan. "I would never do something like this. It feels like I am being controlled. A feeling inside I can't control."
While the defense is arguing that Howard was insane at the time the attack, he was aware of what occurred during the interview.
"I stabbed a lady," he said, adding that he had blacked out during the assault and did not realize what he had done until he was walking away from the scene.
He said once he realized he had assaulted Todd, he did not return to offer assistance because he was too afraid to see what he had done.
"I was too afraid to go back," Howard said. "I knew it was wrong and then there was something in my head."
Jailers Tom Lovelace and Sgt. Deb Gardner called Howard a "model inmate" who is only a problem when he "gets low on his meds." They also said Howard exhibits no odd behaviors and knows the difference in unacceptable and acceptable behavior.
While Howard told Gaitan that he hoped Todd was "going to be fine" and he was afraid that she might die, Todd's courtroom appearance showed that her life had changed forever on that sunny, spring day.
Todd said prior to the attack, she was an equestrian, played basketball, ran nightly and enjoyed days at the park with her children. Following the assault, however, Todd said doctors told her she had only a one percent chance of ever walking again.
Todd said after a game of chase with her two children, Olivia, 9, and Lincoln, 5, she sat on a park bench and watched her children play.
Within moments, Todd said she felt "what felt like a baseball bat" hitting her spine.
"I was trying to yell for help," Todd testified. "I thought I had been shot."
The reality began to unfold as she sat on the park bench, holding herself up with her arms and unable to move her legs.
"I was scared," Todd said, adding that she reached to feel her back and realized she was bleeding.
Todd said she told her daughter everything was going to be fine, although she knew everything was not okay.
While Todd said she had not seen Howard as he approached her from behind, she did see him as he walked away from the scene, toward Graham Street. When asked who had assaulted her, she looked at Howard from across the defense table, where her wheelchair had been positioned during her testimony, and pointed directly at Howard.
Todd told the jury that she does not have much faith in the one percent chance she will walk again.
After the state rested its case, Allen called psychologist Dr. Phillip J. Davis to the stand. Davis testified that he had been contacted by the defense to perform an evaluation of Howard's mental status at the time of the attack.
Davis said his assessment was based on a face-to-face interview with Howard at the Erath County Jail on Oct. 1 and thousands of pages of documentation that outlined Howard's two decades as a mental patient.
He said he did not perform psychological tests because he was not looking to determine Howard's current mental state but his condition during the attack on March 14.
Davis noted the medications Howard had been prescribed to the defendant over the last 20 years, and also said Howard reported struggles with paranoia, anxiety, delusions and schizophrenia.
The most recent delusion reported by Howard prior to the attack, according to Davis, was the idea that individuals were stealing the words to songs that he listened to in his head. Davis said the same delusions were documented by medical professionals 20 years ago.
Davis said that Howard struggled with the fact that he is a mental patient.
"Mr. Howard does not like that he is mentally ill and wishes he was not," Davis said.
When asked the conclusion of his evaluation of Howard, Davis said the assault was a result of mental disease or mental defect and he didn't know that his conduct was wrong at the time of the attack. He also said that Howard has no history of violence, a fact that was later disputed by the state.
"It is my opinion that he does meet the criteria to be considered insane at the time (of the assault)," Davis said.
Under cross examination, Cashon picked apart the files that Davis reviewed and pointed to several incidents over the last two decades that shows Howard is a violent man.
Cashon questioned threats against Howard's mother, an assault on his brother, threats against fellow residents at an MHMR facility and several other reports of violent behavior, which were documented in the files.
Cashon pointed out that at the time of his arrest, Howard was on probation for an earlier incident involving a former employer.
Roger Howard, Howard's stepfather who had raised him since birth, also took the stand. The elder Howard testified that his son had struggled with mental issues since he was 20. He also said the family tried to commit Howard to a mental institution, but he refused help.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today when the jury is expected to hear closing arguments.