Jail transfer sought for Tanner Horner, FedEx driver indicted in Athena Strand murder

Attorneys for Tanner Horner, the FedEx driver indicted on capital murder and kidnapping charges in the killing of 7-year-old Athena Strand, have filed a motion to transfer Horner from the Wise County Jail to another detention facility and named Tarrant County as a possible location.

Horner was arrested Dec. 2, 2022, and is awaiting trial. He’s been housed in the booking area of the jail since he attempted suicide in May, according to court records. Defense attorneys Susan Anderson and Jennifer Turner said in the motion that Horner should be “transferred to another jail facility that can accommodate his mental health needs in a way that Wise County is unable to do.”

The motion was filed Dec. 20 in Wise County’s 271st District Court.

Horner, a FedEx contract driver, delivered a Christmas gift of Barbies intended for Athena to her father’s home near the Wise County town of Paradise on Nov. 30, 2022. The 7-year-old went missing right after the delivery, and her body was found two days later at a site along the Trinity River, less than 10 miles from the house.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Horner confessed to authorities and said that he backed into Athena with his FedEx truck. She wasn’t seriously hurt, but he kidnapped her, strangled her and killed her so she couldn’t tell her father about the accident, he said.

Tanner Horner faces charges of capital murder of a person under 10 years old and aggravated kidnapping in the death of Athena Strand, whose body was found Dec. 2, 2022, in Wise County, Texas.
Tanner Horner faces charges of capital murder of a person under 10 years old and aggravated kidnapping in the death of Athena Strand, whose body was found Dec. 2, 2022, in Wise County, Texas.

Following Horner’s suicide attempt in May, Wise County Jail officials told his attorneys that the only place they can monitor him 24 hours a day is in the booking area. Horner was previously diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to the motion, and his condition is aggravated by “substantial noise and frequent traffic” in the booking area.

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The booking area can’t adequately house an inmate over a long period of time, Anderson and Turner said in the motion. Horner doesn’t have consistent access to showers or “the full range of communication methods offered to other inmates.”

He’s sleeping on a thin mattress laid on the concrete floor and is exposed to bugs and insects, according to the motion.

“While these conditions may not impact other inmates, because of Mr. Horner’s autism spectrum disorder and other ongoing mental health concerns, his current housing has caused a decline in his mental health,” his attorneys said in the motion. “Should he remain where he is, we believe he will continue to deteriorate to the point of incompetency.”

Anderson and Turner named Tarrant County as a potential location that has the resources to adequately house Horner while addressing “any mental health issues and ensuring he is not a risk to himself or others,” according to the motion.

“Continuing to house Mr. Horner in the Booking Area of the jail amounts to punishment and there is no legitimate governmental purpose to continue to house him in the Booking Area,” the attorneys said in the motion.

Since May, Horner hasn’t attempted suicide or tried to harm himself, the motion said.

A Wise County grand jury indicted Horner on Feb. 16 on charges of aggravated kidnapping and capital murder of a child. The next day prosecutors with the Wise County District Attorney’s Office filed notice with the 271st District Court that they intend to seek the death penalty for Horner if he’s convicted of capital murder at trial.

On March 6, Horner pleaded not guilty at his arraignment hearing in Wise County.

Technicalities have since slowed the case, which was temporarily paused for a time over the question of who should represent Horner at his trial, according to the Wise County Messenger.

In July, a district judge in Wise County ruled to remove Horner’s court-appointed attorneys, Bill Ray and Steven Gordon, and replace them with lawyers from the Regional Public Defender’s Office, according to court documents. The ruling resulted from the judge learning that RPDO has a contract with Wise County to represent capital murder defendants.

Horner appeared in the 271st District Court in Decatur on Oct. 16 and clarified he wanted the RPDO to continue representing him, the Wise County Messenger reported. It was the first time for him to speak on the record about his case.

A date has not been set for Horner’s trial, which may be held in 2024 at the earliest.