Woman pleads guilty in stabbing

Woman pleads guilty in stabbing by Randy Dockendorf A Yankton woman faces up to 50 years in prison and a $50,000 fine after pleading guilty to an Aug. 7 stabbing in Cedar County, NE, which has paralyzed a Vermillion woman below the waist.

Laura Brown, 18, withdrew her not guilty pleas to three charges Nov. 24 in Cedar County District Court. As part of a plea agreement, she then pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and use of a deadly weapon to commit felony.

The Class 3 felonies each carry a minimum penalty of one year in prison and a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Brown will be sentenced Jan. 12. She remains in the Dixon County Jail in Ponca, NE, because Cedar County does not have a women's facility.

The charges are in connection with Brown's attack on Tracy Gilkyson, 21, at a party near Pleasant Valley west of Hartington. Brown plunged a steak knife into Gilkyson's back, severing the victim's spinal cord. Gilkyson is receiving treatment but remains paralyzed from the waist down.

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Under the plea bargain, Cedar County Attorney George Hirschbach dismissed a charge of first-degree attempted assault connected with Brown's alleged intention to harm Jessica Clarkson who was also at the party.

The Class 3A felony carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Judge Maurice Redmond accepted the plea and ordered a pre-sentence investigation. Because of the seriousness of the charges and Brown's flight risk, the court had raised her bail to $75,000 at 10 percent.

During the hearing, Brown tearfully recalled the incident.

"I went to the party, and I got into a fight with one of the girls, and I grabbed a knife," she said. "I went outside. Tracy came at me, and I started swinging and I stabbed her. I didn't know that I had stabbed her. I walked back inside, and then the police came and arrested me."

Hirschbach said he had witnesses who could contradict Brown's account. He would start with Gilkyson herself, who is undergoing treatment while living in Vermillion. Gilkyson would testify that she and Brown started arguing at the Aug. 7 gathering, held at 55894 Ave. on Highway 84 in Cedar County.

"The victim left the house, and Laura Brown then went and retrieved a stainless steel, serrated steak knife at the house," Hirschbach said. "(Brown) went a distance into the yard and plunged the knife right at the victim's back, causing paralysis to (Gilkyson's) lower extremities."

Upon hearing Hirschbach's list of witnesses and testimony, Brown agreed to the facts and reaffirmed her change of pleas. Redmond accepted the plea agreement and set the sentencing date.

After the hearing, Pollard said a number of mitigating circumstances should factor into her sentencing.

Brown had met a friend at a Yankton bar who gave her a ride to the Cedar County party, then left her alone with only one person that she even recognized, Pollard said.

"Laura had been drinking and was over the legal blood-alcohol limit. She was using not only alcohol but oxycotin, a pain killer," he said. "The girl she actually had the argument with was Jessica Clarkson."

Brown is only 18 and has gone through many challenges in her life, Pollard said.

"Her mother was murdered in her presence when Laura was one year old," he said. "Laura was raised by her grandmother until she passed away, and then she stayed with her father. She dropped out of school after she moved to Yankton."

In dealing with the stabbing incident, Brown cooperated with investigators, wrote a sincere apology to the victim, has shown remorse and has gone through treatment for an alcohol problem, Pollard said.

Hirschbach said he will walk a fine line, seeking justice for Gilkyson's paralysis while looking at Brown's chances for rehabilitation.

Pollard said no winners will come out of the whole process.

"It's been tragic on everybody's side," he said.

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