Andre Thomas is a schizophrenic Black man on Texas death row who is blind as a result of gouging out both of his eyes after acting upon the voices in his head. Mr. Thomas is not competent to be executed. Late yesterday, counsel received notice that the 15th District Court of Grayson County set Mr. Thomas’ execution for April 5, 2023.
In response to the execution date-setting, Maurie Levin, Mr. Thomas’s lead counsel, and Sam Spital, Director of Litigation at the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and a member of Mr. Thomas’s legal team before the Supreme Court, have issued the following statements. (The court’s date-setting order can be viewed here.)
Statement from Maurie Levin, lead counsel for Andre Thomas:
“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 thirteen 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Statement from Sam Spital, LDF’s Director of Litigation:
“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.”
Andre Thomas: Case Overview
Andre Thomas is a severely mentally ill Black man who was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Grayson County, Texas, in 2005. He suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is deeply psychotic. Following the paranoid voices in his head, he has removed both his eyes. The Texas Department of Corrections houses him in a psychiatric facility rather than death row and medicates him daily with powerful anti-psychotic drugs. The State’s pursuit of his execution makes a mockery of decency, fairness and justice.
Mr. Thomas grew up in extreme poverty in a family riddled with mental illness and its predictable consequences: substance abuse and criminal behavior. Despite the dire circumstances that surrounded him, Mr. Thomas managed to place into gifted and talented programs as a young boy. He struggled against all odds, and, for a short time, he was successful.
But, at the age of nine, Mr. Thomas started hearing voices in his head. He began drinking in an attempt to cope – mimicking older members of his family. He attempted suicide for the first time when he was ten years old, and would make many more attempts, including during the crime.
Two days before the crime, he attempted suicide because he could no longer tolerate the voices in his head. He was taken to the hospital, where a doctor concluded he was paranoid, hallucinating, and “really mentally ill.” Mr. Thomas was left alone, and walked out. Although the hospital issued an emergency detention order, directing that Mr. Thomas be apprehended immediately, law enforcement never carried out that directive.
Suffering from severe schizophrenia and active psychosis, Mr. Thomas followed the voices in his head and murdered his estranged wife, Laura Boren, a white woman, their son Andre, and his wife’s daughter Leyha, before attempting to take his own life by stabbing himself in the chest. When he realized he was not dying, he turned himself into the police.
Five days after the crime, while sitting in his jail cell, Mr. Thomas — following the literal dictates of Matthew 5:29 that “if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee” — gouged out his right eye. While on death row, seeking to prevent the government from reading his thoughts. Mr. Thomas removed his left eye and ate it.
After Mr. Thomas removed his first eye, he was declared incompetent, and sent to a state hospital. Forty-seven days later state doctors found him competent, and he was returned to Grayson County for trial. Mr. Thomas’ attorneys did not re-raise the question of his competence, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – including the removal of his right eye.
The jury who sentenced Mr. Thomas to death never heard about his history of mental illness and repeated pleas for help, including in the weeks leading up to his crime. Two court-appointed doctors agreed that Mr. Thomas was a paranoid schizophrenic, the diagnosis for which prison doctors now medicate him. Yet at trial, the state prevailed with the argument that Mr. Thomas’ voluntary ingestion of cough medicine was the cause of any psychosis during the crime.
Mr. Thomas was denied his right to an impartial jury and effective assistance of counsel. The all-white jury’s racial makeup was achieved, in part, by the prosecutors’ use of a unique Texas rule called a “jury shuffle” to avoid seating non-white jurors. The same prosecutor – Assistant District Attorney Kerye Ashmore – has pursued death sentences against five African American defendants; of all the jurors selected for those five trials, every single juror was white except one.
On their jury questionnaires, three jurors that convicted Mr. Thomas and sentenced him to death said they were opposed to people of different races marrying or having children, biases that were directly relevant to the facts of Mr. Thomas’ case. Their inclusion on the jury was not challenged by Mr. Thomas’ counsel, who also did not object to the State’s use of racially inflammatory arguments.
At trial, the prosecution appealed to the jurors’ prejudices, eliciting irrelevant testimony about sexual relationships Mr. Thomas had with other white women. Then, in arguing that Mr. Thomas should be sentenced to death, the State asked the all-white jury: “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?” In dissenting from the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of review in Mr. Thomas’ case, Justice Sotomayor, joined by two other justices, wrote “The errors in this case render Thomas’ death sentence not only unreliable, but unconstitutional.”
In addition, Mr. Thomas is from, and the crime took place and was tried in Sherman, Texas, a town with a history of extreme racial prejudice. In 1930, a white mob in Sherman lynched George Hughes, a Black man accused of raping a white woman. The mob burned down what was a thriving African American neighborhood, much of which has never been rebuilt. Currently, city and county officials and leaders, and the local NAACP chapter, are working to erect a memorial to Mr. Hughes, and to recognize the once thriving black business district. This is being done in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative of Montgomery Alabama, which is helping to build memorials to victims of racial violence.
In addition to the pervasive racial bias in Mr. Thomas’s case, the Eighth Amendment bars the execution of severely mentally ill people who do not understand the reason for their punishment. Ford v. Wainwright (1986); Panetti v. Quarterman (2007). Mr. Thomas, one of the most mentally ill prisoners in Texas history, is not competent for execution under the Constitution. Keeping him in prison for life would be a just punishment that keeps the public safe.
For more information, please contact: Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com.