Tanner Horner entered a not guilty plea Monday morning in Wise County, Texas – he is charged with the November murder of 7-year-old Athena Strand.
Horner, 31, appeared in court but did not speak, letting his lawyer plead on his behalf.
Also in court was Strand’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy, who faced the man accused of murdering her daughter.
Gandy’s hair remained bright pink, her daughter’s favorite color.
While Gandy did not speak in court or make any comments following the appearance, her civil attorney Benson Varghese said the ordeal was “Probably one of the most difficult moments of her life to see the person who killed her daughter, and it’s a moment what she’s been thinking about’. for a long time.
“I suppose it’s surreal in a way, but it was just very important for her to be there,” he added.
Athena Strand, 7, was abducted and strangled to death on November 30, 2022 by a contracted FedEx employee delivering gifts to her childhood home in North Texas
Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, was arrested and charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping in the death of Athena Strand. Horner is currently being held in Wise County Jail on $1.5 million bail
Horner was arrested on December 2, 2022, the same day Athena’s body was found.
He confessed to police that he accidentally hit Strand with his van while delivering Christmas presents to the house. He then panicked and put the little girl in his vehicle and strangled her to death.
According to an autopsy, Strand had blunt injuries to her head and neck and signs of asphyxia and strangulation. Her death was ruled a homicide.
On February 17, a jury in Wise County formally charged Horner with kidnapping and murdering the young girl.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against Horner.
Horner was charged with sexually assaulting a child nearly a decade ago and faces three additional counts of child sexual abuse in Fort Worth in 2013. He is being held in jail on $1.5 million bail.
Athena’s father, Jacob Strand, has taken legal action against FedEx, claiming they did not conduct sufficient background checks before hiring Horner.
“I am for the death penalty. In any sentence,’ said Gandy WFAA.
“Every breath he takes, my daughter doesn’t.
Gandy previously said she wished he had just driven off and let her daughter walk.
“We’re very forgiving people,” she said.
“If Athena hadn’t been injured or even had a few bumps and scrapes, he could have just driven off. We could have forgiven him.
“Accidents happen, but he chose to do more — and what he did was unforgivable.
“It’s hard for me to believe Athena couldn’t run away. Athena could have just walked away, and I wish he’d let her.’
According to the arrest affidavit, Horner said Strand was not seriously injured when he hit her with his van.
Seven-year-old Athena Strand’s mother, Maitlyn Gandy (right, Athena is center) has filed a wrongful death lawsuit
Maitlyn Gandy posted pictures of her daughter Athena’s pink coffin on her Facebook page
Horner was charged with sexually assaulting a child nearly a decade ago and faces three additional counts of child sexual abuse in 2013, in Fort Worth
Gandy says she is still grieving for her daughter as she tries to take care of her other young child, Rilyn.
“I check my doors three times every night and hold my three-year-old tighter. I’m afraid to let her go. Everything is just very, very scary and very, very sad,’ Gandy said, tears in his eyes.
“It’s been tough for our family. For my other three year old. She doesn’t understand why she can’t call her “sissy” or why she hasn’t come home yet. It takes a long time for her to leave without seeing her sister,” she explains.
‘We’ll make it. We try to function. That was a long time ago. Difficult but very chaotic at the same time.
‘I am sad. I am angry. I am confused. I’m trying my best.
“I have been very scared and I don’t sleep often or for an extended period of time. Sounds at night scare me.’