Legislature proposes ‘Athena’s Law’ to protect Texas Children from predators
State Representative Lynn Stucky (R-Sanger) last Friday filed a bill that would allow delayed release to people charged with certain crimes against children, a law filed in response to the recent murder case of 7-year-old Athena Strand.
House Bill 1906, which Stucky dubbed “Athena’s Law,” seeks to amend existing laws related to a delayed release following a bond hearing. Under current law, the accused must be set free immediately upon posting the required bond, with exception. The current exception allows further detention up to 48 hours for those accused of family violence if there is probable cause to believe the violence will continue if the person is immediately released.
Under HB 1906, the law would be amended to also allow the judge to delay release from jail those accused of “an offense involving the sexual assault of or resulting in serious bodily injury to a child,” who is defined as a person under age 18.
For a person accused of committing sexual assault or causing serious injury to a child, the delayed jail release would also be extended from 48 hours to a minimum of 48 hours and a maximum of seven days after bond has been posted. If a judge determines that the person “has confessed or admitted to committing the offense to a law enforcement officer who is investigating the offense,” according to the proposed bill’s language, then the judge could order the accused be held in jail a minimum of 48 hours and a maximum of 30 days after the posting of bond.
Stucky, who represents Wise County as part of Texas House District 64, and half of Sanger’s zip code 76266 (west of I-35) said he filed the bill after hearing from constituents who were upset that Tanner Horner, who is charged with capital murder in the death of Strand, was given bond and could potentially be released from jail.
“What made it worse was the discovery of additional charges related to sexually abusing children after (Horner) was already given a bond hearing,” Stucky said in a news release announcing the bill. “I filed these bills to make sure that our law enforcement has more time to investigate these charges and give victims more time to seek additional protection. We should not allow these dangerous criminals back on the street so easily, especially when they knowingly confess to the crime.”
Stucky has sponsored House Joint Resolution 99 which proposes a constitutional amendment, which would give voters the chance to approve the proposed changes to the law in the constitutional amendment election this fall.
Horner was arrested Dec. 2 of last year after telling officers he killed Strand after accidentally striking her with his FedEx delivery truck at the family’s home near Cottondale Nov. 30 and was afraid she would tell her father, according to the arrest affidavit in the case. He directed law enforcement to the location of Strand’s body, which was found southeast of Boyd Dec. 2.
Horner remains in the Wise County Jail on a total bond of $1.5 million. He is charged with aggravated kidnapping and capital murder of a person under the age of 10 for the Strand case as well as unrelated Tarrant County warrants for sexual assault of a child (two charges) and sexual assault of a child under 17 (three charges). The five Tarrant County charges were added 18 to 20 days after Horner’s original charges.
“Our justice system is designed to fairly deliver due process. However, the system should also be bolstered to protect child victims from their attackers,” Stucky said. “I believe all Texans will support protecting our communities and ensuring that we keep dangerous criminals who prey upon our children behind bars. These bills do not prevent justice for the accused; they preserve justice for the victims while allowing the system time to properly investigate the crimes.”