Texas death row inmate who cut out his eyes seeks clemency citing ‘psychosis’

Struggling with mental illness, Texas death row inmate Andre Thomas began hearing voices at age nine and attempted suicide for the first time at age 10, his attorneys say.

Thomas’ psychosis, filled with religious delusions and hallucinations, worsened with age. His family – plagued by a long history of mental illness, addiction and poverty – could not help him.

His attorneys say in March 2004, when he was 21, Thomas’ mental illness erupted in his hometown of Sherman, Texas, in an outbreak of appalling violence. He fatally stabbed his estranged wife Laura Christine Boren, 20, their four-year-old son Andre Lee and their 13-month-old daughter Leyha Marie Hughes, and cut out the hearts of the two children. He later told police that God instructed him to commit the murders and that he believed all three were demons.

Thomas was sentenced to death for killing the little girl after the jury dismissed his insanity defense. Prosecutors argued he knew his behavior was wrong and was making his mental health worse through drug use. He has spent the last 15 years in a unit south of Houston for the state’s most insane inmates. Heavily drugged Thomas, now 39, is also blind. He has twice gouged out his eyes and eaten one of them since the killings to make sure the government couldn’t hear his thoughts, his lawyers said.

Thomas’ lawyers say he will never be responsible for his April 5 execution. Joining more than 100 faith leaders and dozens of mental health professionals on Wednesday, they urged Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life in prison or grant a pardon so the courts determine his jurisdiction over the execution can .

“Gov Abbott has the power to stop the spectacle of prison guards leading a blind, mentally incompetent, delusional man into the death chamber,” said attorney Maurie Levin.

However, authorities say the victims of Thomas and their families should not be forgotten in this debate and that his execution should proceed if Thomas is found competent. The killing of Boren and her children shook Sherman, a town of about 45,000 people 105 kilometers north of Dallas.

“A jury debated what justice should be in this case. We will not ignore it,” said J. Kerye Ashmore of the Grayson County Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case.

A spokeswoman for Mr Abbott did not respond to an email sent on Friday seeking comment. Mr Abbott has only granted clemency to one death row inmate since taking office in 2015.

The Supreme Court has banned the death penalty for the mentally disabled, but not for those with serious mental illness. However, it has ruled that a person must be capable to be executed.

Thomas’ lawyers must request the court to review his competency. Ultimately, a judge would decide the matter.

His attorneys say prison records show that as of December Thomas was “still hallucinating constantly,” including “voices ‘from a spiritual prison’ and searching for ‘angels’.”

“He is one of the most insane prisoners in Texas history,” said Mr. Levin.

Lawyers for Thomas said his trial was also problematic because it allowed jurors who said they were opposed to interracial marriage. Thomas is black and his estranged wife was white. The US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on the issue last year.

Mr Ashmore said the standard for determining whether someone can be executed is not “whether they are mentally ill or having hallucinations” but to find out whether an inmate understands why they are being executed or that their execution is imminent.

Joe Brown, the former Grayson County district attorney who led the prosecution, said this has been a difficult case for everyone involved.

“For a lot of people I hear from, it doesn’t matter if he understands he’s being punished or not. They believe that a crime involving these facts requires death. For others… the death penalty is never justified. Our legal system is doing its best in this difficult situation,” said Mr. Brown, who now practices private practice in Sherman.

The Texas legislature will debate a bill that would bar people with serious mental illness from the death penalty. Similar bills did not come into force in 2019 and 2021.

Kentucky and Ohio have approved such measures in recent years.

“It would be very disturbing to execute Mr. Thomas at the very time when the (Texas) House is again considering exempting people like him from execution,” said Greg Hansch, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Texas. If such a law became Texas law, it would not be retroactive.

Rev. Jaime Kowlessar, a Dallas pastor who is among more than 100 faith leaders pleading to stop the execution, said killing Thomas would serve no legitimate purpose.

“We pray that Gov Abbott will choose the path of healing and grace in sparing the life of Mr Thomas,” Mr Kowlessar said.

The Independent and the Nonprofit Corporate responsibility initiative for justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign in which a end of the death penalty in the USA. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 high-profile signatories to its Business Leaders’ Statement Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent being the latest on the list. We join high-profile leaders such as Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and commit to highlighting the injustices of the death penalty in our reporting.

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