By Rena Abdusalam
HUNTSVILLE, TX – Andre Thomas, a schizophrenic Black man currently on Texas death row, has been set an execution date of April 5, 2023, according to the 15th District Court of Grayson County.
However, Thomas—who gouged out one of his eyes in prison and ate it—is not competent to be executed, claim his lawyers.
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 has him reside at the Wayne Scott Unit, where mentally ill prisoners are housed. The psychiatric facility medicates him with heavy antipsychotic drugs daily.
According to his lawyers, Thomas grew up in poverty and surrounded by a mentally ill family and was exposed to substance abuse and corrupt behavior from a young age. However, Thomas was able to be successful for a while. He was in gifted and skillful programs as a young boy despite his struggles and environment.
Lawyers note when Thomas was nine years old, the beginning stages of his mental illness began to show, as he said he started to hear voices in his head. Learning from his family, he began to drink as a coping mechanism.
When he was 10, Thomas attempted suicide, the first of many attempts.
Unable to handle the voices in his head, Thomas even attempted suicide two days before the committed crime. After being taken to a hospital, a doctor deduced that he suffered from paranoia, hallucination and, overall, was really mentally ill.
At one point during his visit, Thomas was left alone and ended up leaving the hospital. The hospital issued a call for the apprehension of Thomas rapidly, but law enforcement never executed the directive, said the appeal lawyers.
Claiming he was listening to the voices in his head, a jury found Thomas 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 he recognized that he was not dying and turned himself in.
While in his jail 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 thoughts, he said. Thomas is now blind.
After the removal of his right eye, Thomas was sent to a state hospital because of his incompetence, but 47 days later, the doctors found him to be competent. He went back to Grayson Country for trial. Thomas was tried in Sherman, Texas, a town with an overwhelming background of racial bias, said his lawyers.
Despite the immense amount of evidence, Thomas’ trial attorneys did not bring up the issue of his competence during the trial, Thomas’ appeals lawyers note.
Although it was shown to the jury through court-appointed doctors that Thomas had mental illness, the history of his illness and reported calls for help were never brought to the attention of the jury. The state argued that voluntary consumption of cough medicine caused Thomas to experience psychosis during the crime.
Thomas’s request for an impartial jury and effective assistance of counsel were also rejected. Thomas supporters claim the all-white jury was the result of Assistant District Attorney Keyre Ashmore, who has sought death sentences against five Black defendants.
The all-white makeup of the jury is achieved through the Texas “jury shuffle” rule. For ADA Ashmore’s five trials against Black defendants, the jurors were all white, except for one.
Three jurors that sentenced him to death said on their jury questionnaires they were against interracial marriage, which directly impacted Thomas’s case because he was married to his white wife. Their addition to the jury was not even argued by Thomas’s counsel.
Thomas’s counsel did not object to the State’s racially provocative arguments.
During the trial, the State brought up off-subject testimony about Thomas’s relationships with white women, even pointing out to the jury during the argument about his sentence: “Are you going to take the risk [that, if sentenced to life imprisonment and later released on parole] about him asking your daughter out, or your granddaughter out?”
Thomas’ current lawyers argue that regardless of the prosecution’s racist arguments, the Eighth Amendment prevents the execution of severely mentally ill people. Considered as one of the most mentally ill prisoners in Texas history, Thomas is not competent because of the Eighth Amendment, they add.
“Andre Thomas is one of the most mentally ill prisoners in Texas history. His profound illness led him to remove both of his eyes and has rendered him incompetent for execution. For the past 13 years Mr. Thomas has resided at the Wayne Scott Unit, where the most mentally ill Texas prisoners are housed. There he is given multiple powerful anti-psychotic drugs, which manage only to mitigate his auditory and visual hallucinations,” said Maurie Levin, Thomas’s lead counsel.
“The facts of the tragic murders that took place are not in dispute. Schizophrenic and deeply psychotic, Mr. Thomas followed the voices in his head, and believing they were Jezebel, the anti-Christ, and an evil spirit, he took the lives of his estranged wife, Laura Boren, their son Andre, and her daughter, Leyha Hughes. He attempted to remove their hearts, believing that would ‘set them free from evil.’ He then stabbed himself in the heart and lay down to die. When he did not, Mr. Thomas turned himself in,” added Levin.
“Five days later, sitting in the local jail and quoting the Bible, Mr. Thomas gouged out his right eye. Although the state did not dispute that he was psychotic at the time of the crime, the district attorney claimed that his psychosis was unimportant at both the guilt and punishment phases of trial because Mr. Thomas supposedly made himself psychotic through the ingestion of cough medicine. An all-white jury ultimately convicted Mr. Thomas and sentenced him to death.
“In fact, Mr. Thomas’s psychosis was longstanding. He began hearing voices in his head at age 9. When he was 10 he tried—in the first of many attempts—to kill himself. For years, he struggled to get help, but the mental health and public safety systems repeatedly failed him. Two days before the crime, after another suicide attempt, he was taken to a local hospital, where a social worker and doctor found he was psychotic, suffering auditory and visual hallucinations, and suicidal. Left unattended, Mr. Thomas wandered off alone,” Levin explained.
The lawyer concluded, “Mr. Thomas’s mental health has only deteriorated further during his time on death row. Three years after he arrived, afraid the government could see his thoughts, he removed his remaining eye, and ate it.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has made unequivocally clear that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of a prisoner who, like Mr. Thomas, has lost his sanity. As a blind and very sick man, Mr. Thomas poses no threat to others. Keeping him in prison for the rest of his life would be a just punishment that keeps the public safe.”
The statement from Sam Spital, Director of Litigation at the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), noted:
“It should alarm every Texan that racial bias poisoned Mr. Thomas’ case. He was a Black man accused of murdering his estranged wife, a white woman, and her two children during an undisputed psychotic episode. The jury that concluded Mr. Thomas should be put to death was not only all-white, it included three jurors who expressed overt racial bias on their pre-trial jury questionnaires. Those jurors expressed their disapproval of interracial relationships, stating, for example, ‘I don’t believe God intended for this,’ and ‘We should stay with our Blood Line.’
“Appealing to racial prejudices, 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, if sentenced to life imprisonment rather than death, would somehow come back and ‘ask your daughter out or your granddaughter out?’ Mr. Thomas’ execution would make a mockery of a fundamental constitutional principle: racial bias must play no role in the administration of the death penalty.”