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Wise County DA to seek death penalty against Tanner Horner, man accused of killing Athena Strand

Horner was indicted on the capital murder charge, as well as aggravated kidnapping, on Feb. 16, 2023.

WISE COUNTY, Texas — Wise County's sheriff said the district attorney plans to seek the death penalty against Tanner Horner, the man accused of killing Athena Strand while working as a FedEx driver. 

Sheriff Lane Akin told WFAA on Tuesday that District Attorney James Stainton planned on pursuing the death penalty against Horner, who is charged with the November 2022 death of the 7-year-old from Paradise, Texas. 

Akin said the district attorney told the sheriff's office he's officially filed paperwork to seek the punishment if Horner is convicted.

Horner was indicted on the capital murder charge, as well as aggravated kidnapping, on Feb. 16, 2023. The 31-year-old is accused of abducting and killing Strand on Nov. 30, 2022. Strand's body was found on Dec. 2.

Police said Horner told them he had accidentally hit Athena with his truck, which he had while working as a contracted FedEx delivery driver, while he was backing up. According to the arrest affidavit, Horner said Strand was not seriously injured in that collision but said he panicked just the same and put her in the van.

The affidavit also said that Horner further told investigators Strand was talking to him after she was hit, even telling him her name. Once inside the van, the affidavit said, Horner told police he tried to break Athena's neck -- and when that didn't work, he told police, he strangled her with his bare hands in the back of the van.

According to an autopsy report by the Dallas County Medical Examiner, Strand had blunt-force injuries to her head and neck and evidence of smothering and strangulation. The manner of death was listed as a homicide.

Horner told police multiple times he strangled Athena because she was going to tell her father about being hit by the FedEx truck Horner was driving, the affidavit stated.

Horner is currently being held in the Wise County jail and has a $1.5 million bond.

On Tuesday, Strand's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against FedEx, the contracting company Big Topspin and Horner himself. 

The 18-page lawsuit, filed in Wise County, seeks “fair and reasonable”   compensation for “acts and omissions” that led to the murder of Maitlyn Gandy's daughter.

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