Lawyers argue whether death row inmate who ate own eyeball too mentally ill to execute
Andre Thomas was sent to death row in 2005, after he killed his ex-wife Lauren Boren Thomas, their 4-year-old son and Lauren's 13-month-old baby
By Keri Blakinger
HOUSTON — A federal appeals court today is set to hear arguments over whether a condemned killer so mentally ill that he plucked out both his eyes and ate one is fit to execute.
The state of Texas argues that he is - because so far the courts have only banned executing the insane, not the merely mentally ill.
But Andre Thomas's lawyers are seeking to change that. They'll make their arguments in front of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals at 2 p.m. If they win, they'll get to move forward with an appeal, and ask the court to ban executing all severely mentally ill prisoners. If not, Thomas will move one step closer to the death house.
The Sherman man was sent to death row in 2005, after he killed his ex-wife Lauren Boren Thomas, their 4-year-old son Andre Jr., and Lauren's 13-month-old Leyha. He cut out their hearts, believing Andre Jr. was the anti-Christ and the baby a related evil spirit, according to court records.
In the months before the slayings, his behavior had grown bizarre. He put duct tape over his mouth and refused to speak at one point. Another time he spoke about how the entire meaning of life was contained in code hidden in a dollar bill. He thought he was reliving days and months of his life and told people he could hear and see God and demons.
In the weeks before the crime, he tried to kill himself two times, one of which landed him at a hospital. But he fled before he could be committed.
Two days later, he cut out his family's hearts.
He brought three knives with him and used a different one on each victim to avoid cross-contaminating the blood.
Afterward, he stabbed himself in the chest and laid down next to his ex-wife. When he didn't die, he left, carrying his victims' organ in his pockets.
He was arrested and confessed to the crimes.
Five days later, he sat in a jail cell reading the Bible.
"If the right eye offends thee, pluck it out," one verse said.
So he did.
He was sent to a psychiatric hospital and medicated for a few weeks until he was deemed competent to stand trial. The psychiatrist determined that he was malingering - pretending to be mentally ill. The state argued that his psychosis was caused by drugs.
But after he was sent to death row, he continued to struggle with severe mental illness, and in 2008 he plucked out his remaining eye and ate it.
Now, attorneys for the condemned killer will argue in New Orleans for a Certificate of Appealability, the right to have the court actually consider his case and grant relief.
In 2002, the Supreme Court banned executing the intellectually disabled, saying the practice had "no penological interest," created a high risk of wrongful execution and flew in the face of national consensus. Thomas's attorneys - Maurie Levin, Donald Bailey and Catherine Carroll - argue that those same three reasons should apply to the severely mentally ill.
"There is a growing consensus against the execution of the severely mentally ill," the legal team wrote in a 90-page filing last year. "The leading legal and mental-health professional organizations— including the American Bar Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association — oppose the death penalty for the severely mentally ill."
The state argues in its filings that using that logic to ban executing the severely mentally ill is "both legally and factually untenable."
"The Fifth Circuit has consistently refused to find a connection between the intellectually disabled and the mentally ill," the state's attorneys wrote, "repeatedly rejecting arguments like the one Thomas makes now, and indeed, Thomas provides no basis for reversing course."
Attorneys for the Grayson County man are also raising arguments that the all-white jury was racially biased and that his trial lawyers didn't do their job when they failed to bring that up or question their client's competence.
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