Editor’s note: This article contains graphic descriptions of crimes.
Attorney Catherine M.A. Carroll spent about 30 minutes Tuesday attempting to get convicted murder Andre Thomas the right to an appeal before the entire Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
If Carroll’s argument succeeds, she and other attorneys working for Thomas could get another shot at making the court see Thomas as a man too mentally ill to execute. If she fails, Thomas could move one step closer to getting an execution date.
Thomas’ trek through the ups and downs of death penalty litigation began in the spring of 2004 when he broke down the door of the apartment of his wife Laura Boren and fatally stabbed her, her infant daughter Leyha Hughes, and Andre Jr., the four-year-old son she had with Thomas. After killing the three, Thomas ripped organs out of each of the bodies to take with him. He then stabbed himself several times before he returned to his own home and talked with family and friends about what had done.
Thomas then turned himself in at the Sherman Police Department.
Five days later, Thomas, by then charged with capital murder, pulled out his own right eye. Despite that and this attorneys’ arguments that Thomas was insane at the time of the murders, he was convicted of capital murder in the death of Leyha, and sent to Texas’ death row.
In December 2008, Thomas pulled out his left eyeball and ate it.
Thomas is currently incarcerated at the Jester IV Unit in Richmond.
One of the trial attorneys who represented Thomas in the state capital case, Bobbie Peterson Cate, said she hopes the oral arguments Tuesday result in either a full appeal for Thomas or the commutation of his sentence to one of life in prison without parole based on his mental illness. She said she thinks he should spend the rest of his life in a mental hospital.
Thomas’ other state trial attorney, R.J. Hagood, died in 2010.
The way Hagood and Cate handled the case makes up a large part of the appeal that Carroll supported with arguments on Tuesday. A Texas Monthly article, “Is Andre Thomas Too Crazy to Be Executed?” says his lawyers will argue Thomas didn’t know right from wrong when he committed the murders and the jury that sentenced him to death row was racially biased based on the fact that three jurors said they didn’t agree with interracial marriages like the one Thomas and Boren shared.
The article also said the appeal claims that Cate and Hagood “were constitutionally ineffective, failing to fight the change in his competency ruling, failing to keep the anti-mixed-marriage jurors off the jury, and failing to compile much evidence about Thomas’ mental illness and hard-luck upbringing at the punishment phase of his trial.”
But more than that Thomas’ appellate lawyers are asking the court to end the use of the death penalty as punishment for the mentally ill, “arguing that the constitutionality accepted justifications for capital punishment — retribution and deterrence — don’t work for the mentally ill and their diminished moral culpability.”
The state has argued in most all of its filings that Thomas’ most recent appeals are actually a second attempt at habeas corpus relief. They argue that Thomas might be crazy but that crazy is not insane by Texas law and that the courts have not extended protection from execution to the mentally ill. The state also argues that much of Thomas’ behavior was brought on by his own choices to abuse substances from marijuana to cold medicine from an early age.