Evaluation ordered to determine sentence

Evaluation ordered to determine sentence by Randy Dockendorf A Yankton woman will receive a 90-day evaluation in determining her sentence for the Aug. 7 stabbing which paralyzed a Vermillion woman.

District Judge Maurice Redmond ordered Jan. 26 that 18-year-old Laura Brown undergo the evaluation at the Nebraska women's correctional facility in York.

Brown attacked Tracy Gilkyson, 21, at a party near Pleasant Valley west of Hartington, NE. 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.

As part of a plea bargain with the Cedar County Attorney's office, Brown pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, both Class III felonies.

Each count carries a minimum of one year imprisonment and a maximum of 25 years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.

Under the plea bargain, Cedar County Attorney George Hirschbach dismissed a charge of first-degree attempted assault, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Redmond accepted the plea agreement and ordered a pre-sentence investigation.

Brown remains in the Dixon County Jail in Ponca, NE, because Cedar County does not have a women's facility.

Because of the seriousness of the charges and Brown's flight risk, the court has raised her bail to $75,000 at 10 percent.

Brown was scheduled to appear Jan. 26 in Cedar County District Court, but inclement weather forced cancellation of the court schedule in Hartington. Redmond issued the order without requiring a court appearance.

The judge's order says officials "shall conduct a complete study of the offender." The study shall take into account "her previous delinquency or criminal existence, social background, capacities, and mental, emotional and physical health, and the rehabilitation resources or programs which may be available to suit her needs."

According to the District Clerk of Courts office in Hartington, Brown will re-appear in court for sentencing after completion of her evaluation.

After Brown entered her guilty pleas in a Nov. 24, 2003 hearing, defense attorney Jerry Pollard of Yankton 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 at the time he would 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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