Defense says accused attacker of mom paralyzed now competent



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Posted on August 11, 2010 at 5:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 11 at 8:17 PM

STEPHENVILLE - In a surprise turn of events, an expert witness for the defense of a man accused in the violent attack against a Morgan Mill mother now says he is competent to stand trial. 

Brandi Todd was paralyzed after she was stabbed while watching her children play at a Stephenville park. Michael Howard was her confessed attacker.

While there was supposed to be a jury trial Wednesday afternoon over the question of whether Howard is mentally competent, his defense, which once argued he wasn't, now says he is mentally fit to face a trial.

"He just makes me feel creepy," said Todd after getting her second glimpse of Howard while at the trial. "He's just pitiful looking."
Todd has said she might not be in a wheelchair if Howard, who has a long history of mental illness, had been getting better mental health care.

A doctor hired by his lawyer initially said Howard was not sane at the time of the attack and not competent to stand trial. However, after another examination, that same medical expert now says Howard is ready to face charges.

"There was a point where he was unable to assist his attorney in preparing for trial, didn't understand charges against him," said Heath Allen, Howard's defense attorney.

Doctors say Howard's mental state improved because of medicine and a stable environment in jail.

"He's been medicated with the things he's always been medicated with and that has brought his competency back to where he can communicate with me," Allen said.

That is a big relief to Todd, who was prepared for a jury to decide whether Howard is competent. Instead, experts from both sides agreed he is and a judge ruled the case can proceed.

"I believe if the defendant was ever incompetent, he's certainly competent now," said Jason Cashan, Erath County district attorney. "We've got two doctors saying so."

The case is scheduled for trial in October.  

Meanwhile, Todd said she can now move one toe and is starting to get some feeling in one foot. Ninety percent of her spinal cord was severed by the knife during the attack.