ATHENA Strand’s devastated mother had to face her daughter’s alleged killer for the first time on Monday as he pleaded guilty to her murder.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Tanner Horner, the delivery driver accused of hitting the seven-year-old girl with his FedEX van before kidnapping and strangling her in November.
Horner originally told police he panicked and took the young girl into the van after she threatened to tell her father that he hit her with the van.
On Monday, he pleaded not guilty to felony murder and kidnapping in Wise County Circuit Court.
According to an ABC report, the accused killer arrived at his charge under tight security.
Curtains were used to veil the suspect as he exited the car and deputies quickly escorted him to the courthouse.
It was the first time Strand’s grieving mother, Maitlyn Gandy, was in the same room as the suspect and she chose not to speak to reporters after the intense hearing.
Both of Athena’s parents have sued FedEx and the contractor that hired Horner as a driver, accusing them of negligence in their hiring process.
Benson Varghese, Gandy’s attorney in the civil suit, spoke on behalf of the heartbroken mother in an interview with Fox 4.
“This is the first time she’s been in a room with him and it’s a very difficult moment for her and a very important one for her to be there and to be present so that Athena’s memory will be honored and live on,” he said Varghese.
The attorney added that Maitlyn has made it a priority to attend the trial to seek justice for her daughter.
“I suppose it’s surreal in a way, but it just meant a lot to her to be there,” he added.
According to Varghese, the judge has asked prosecutors and the defense to propose dates for the continuation of the trial.
When asked if Maitlyn plans to attend all of those dates, the attorney replied that he “can’t imagine there being a criminal environment or an environment that Maitlyn isn’t in in the future.”
Varghese noted that he was impressed by the number of law enforcement officials from various agencies present during the indictment.
“On Maitlyn’s behalf, we are extremely grateful to both the community and the grand jury that indicted this case, the district attorney’s office and all law enforcement agencies who also appeared today,” he noted.
Though she didn’t speak directly to the press, Maitlyn shared a Facebook post to thank her for the support she received.
“Thank you to everyone who prayed today and sent positivity to my family and I,” she wrote.
Since his arrest in December, Horner has been in the Wise County Jail on over $1.5 million in bail.
If convicted, Horner faces the death penalty in Texas.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/7565570/athena-strands-mom-tanner-horner-death-penalty/ Athena Strand’s mother breaks her silence after she first confronts the ‘killer’ FedEx driver as he pleads murder