Texas orders execution for Andre Thomas, person with mental illness who gouged out eyes and ate one

PC: deathpenaltyinfo.org

By Rena Abdusalam

HUNTSVILLE, TX — Andre Thomas, a schizophrenic black man currently on Texas death row, has been set as his execution date of April 5, 2023, according to the Grayson County 15th Circuit Court.

However, Thomas – who gouged out one of his eyes in prison and ate it – is not fit to be executed, his lawyers claim.

In 2005, Thomas was sentenced to death in Grayson County by an all-white jury. Thomas suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis.

Instead of death row, the Texas Department of Corrections lets him live in the Wayne Scott Unit, which houses prisoners with mental illness. The psychiatric facility treats him daily with heavy antipsychotics.

According to his attorneys, Thomas grew up in poverty and surrounded by a mentally ill family, and was exposed to substance abuse and corrupt behavior from an early age. However, Thomas was able to thrive for a time. As a young boy, despite his struggles and environment, he was gifted and skillful in programs.

Lawyers note when Thomas was nine years old the early stages of his mental illness began to show when he said he began hearing voices in his head. As he learned from his family, he began drinking as a coping mechanism.

When he was 10 years old, Thomas attempted suicide, the first of many attempts.

Unable to deal with the voices in his head, Thomas even attempted suicide two days before committing the crime. After he was taken to a hospital, a doctor determined that he was suffering from paranoia and hallucinations and that he was genuinely mentally ill overall.

At one point during his visit, Thomas was left alone and eventually left the hospital. The hospital quickly ordered Thomas’s arrest, but law enforcement never carried out the order, appeals attorneys said.

A jury claimed he listened to the voices in his head and found that Thomas had murdered his estranged wife, a white woman, their son and his wife’s daughter while suffering from his mental illness. He also stabbed himself in the chest to attempt suicide, but realized he was not dying and turned himself in.

In his prison cell, Thomas gouged out his right eye five days after the crime. While on death row, Thomas gouged out his left eye and ate it, which was his way of preventing the government from reading his mind, he said. Thomas is now blind.

After having his right eye removed, Thomas was admitted to a state hospital for his incompetence, but 47 days later doctors found him competent. He returned to Grayson Country for trial. Thomas was tried in Sherman, Texas, a city with an overwhelming background of racial prejudice, his attorneys said.

Despite the immense amount of evidence, Thomas’s trial attorneys did not address his competency during the trial, Thomas’s appellate attorneys note.

Although the jury was shown by court-appointed physicians that Thomas was mentally ill, the history of his illness and reported calls for help were never brought to the jury’s attention. The state argued that the voluntary use of cough medicine caused Thomas to suffer from psychosis during the crime.

Thomas’ request for an impartial jury and effective counsel was also denied. Thomas supporters claim the all-white jury was the result of Assistant District Attorney Keyre Ashmore seeking the death penalty against five black defendants.

The all-white composition of the jury is achieved by the Texas “jury shuffle” rule. In ADA Ashmore’s five trials of black defendants, all but one jury was white.

Three jurors who sentenced him to death said in their questionnaires that they were opposed to interracial marriage, which directly impacted Thomas’s case because he was married to his white wife. Her inclusion on the jury was not even argued by Thomas’ attorney.

Thomas’ attorney did not object to the state’s racially provocative arguments.

During the trial, the state made inappropriate statements about Thomas’s relationships with white women, even telling the jury during their verdict dispute, “Are you going to take the risk? [that, if sentenced to life imprisonment and later released on parole] about asking your daughter or granddaughter out?”

Thomas’ current attorneys argue that regardless of prosecutors’ racist arguments, the Eighth Amendment prevents the execution of seriously mentally ill people. Thomas is considered one of the most insane prisoners in Texas history and is incompetent because of the Eighth Amendment, they add.

“Andre Thomas is one of the most insane prisoners in Texas history. His serious illness caused him to remove both of his eyes and rendered him unfit for execution. For the past 13 years, Mr. Thomas has lived in the Wayne Scott Unit, which houses the most insane Texas prisoners. There he is put on several powerful antipsychotic medications that can do nothing but lessen his auditory and visual hallucinations,” said Maurie Levin, Thomas’s lead counsel.

“The facts of the tragic murders that took place are beyond dispute. Schizophrenic and deeply psychotic, Mr. Thomas followed the voices in his head, believing them to be Jezebel the Antichrist and an evil spirit, and took the lives of his estranged wife, Laura Boren, their son, Andre, and their daughter, Leyha Hughes. He attempted to remove their hearts, believing that doing so would “rid them of evil.” Then he stabbed himself in the heart and lay down to die. When he didn’t, Mr. Thomas turned himself in,” Levin added.

“Five days later, while sitting in the local jail quoting the Bible, Mr. Thomas gouged out his right eye. Although the State did not deny that he was psychotic at the time of the crime, the District Attorney contended that his psychosis was immaterial in both the guilt and punishment phases of the trial because Mr. Thomas allegedly made himself psychotic by taking cough medicine. An all-white jury eventually convicted Mr Thomas and sentenced him to death.

“In fact, Mr. Thomas’ psychosis was long-standing. At the age of 9 he started hearing voices in his head. At the age of 10 he tried – as the first of many attempts – to kill himself. For years he struggled to get help, but mental health and public safety systems repeatedly failed him. Two days before the incident, after another suicide attempt, he was taken to a local hospital, where a social worker and doctor determined he was psychotic, suffering from auditory and visual hallucinations, and having suicidal thoughts. Mr. Thomas was left unattended and wandered off alone,” Levin explained.

The attorney concluded, “Mr. Thomas’ mental health only worsened during his time on death row. Three years after his arrival, fearing that the government would see his mind, he removed his remaining eye and ate it.

“The US Supreme Court has made it absolutely clear that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of a prisoner who, like Mr. Thomas, has lost his mind. As a blind and very ill man, Mr. Thomas poses no danger to others. Keeping him in prison for the rest of his life would be just punishment, protecting the public.”

The statement from Sam Spital, Director of Litigation at the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), reads:

“It should concern every Texan that racial prejudice poisoned Mr. Thomas’ case. He was a black man accused of murdering his estranged wife, a white woman, and their two children during an undisputed psychotic episode. Not only was the jury that concluded that Mr. Thomas should be executed consisted of white people, it also included three jurors who expressed blatant racial bias in their pre-trial jury questionnaires. These jurors expressed their disapproval of interracial relationships, saying things like, “I don’t think that’s what God intended” and “we should stick to our bloodlines.”

“Citing racial prejudice, the prosecutor repeatedly elicited irrelevant testimony about Mr. Thomas’ relationships with other white women and asked the all-white jury if they could ‘take the risk’ that Mr. Thomas would be sentenced to life in prison rather than the death She would kind of come back and ‘Ask your daughter or granddaughter out?’ Executing Mr Thomas would make a mockery of a fundamental constitutional principle: racial prejudice should not play a role in the execution of the death penalty.”