The incomprehensible injustice of the Andre Thomas case


The State of Texas plans to execute Andre Thomas on April 5.

Throughout his life, Thomas sought treatment for his severe mental illness symptoms, including up to two days before the murders of his estranged wife, Laura Boren, his four-year-old son, and her one-year-old daughter in Sherman, Texas, in 2004.

No one responded to his increasingly desperate pleas for help, and the jury that sentenced him to death never heard about the lifelong and extreme nature of his illness or his repeated attempts to get treatment.

For the past 15 years, Thomas, 39, has been at the state psychiatric facility, where Texas houses imprisoned men and women with the most extreme mental illness. Thomas, who has severe schizophrenia, permanently blinded himself by gouging out both eyes, the first one five days after his arrest, the second, which he then ate, was in 2008.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not barred those with mental illness from being sentenced to death, although the American Psychiatric Association and the American Bar Association are among the organizations that have called for a ban on the death penalty for those with severe mental illness. And the Death Penalty Information Center reports that a 2014 nationwide poll by Public Policy Research found that Americans did not favor using the death penalty on mentally ill individuals by a 2‑to‑1 margin. 

But Thomas’s mental illness is not the only reason he shouldn’t be killed. Thomas is a Black man who was sentenced to death by an all-white jury, three of whose members openly stated their opposition to interracial marriage and procreation (Thomas’s wife was white) in their questionnaires. But those three, in spite of their feelings, were seated anyway, without objection from his lawyer.

No jury deciding whether to recommend a death sentence should be tainted by potential racial biases that could infect its deliberations or decision, particularly where the case involved an interracial crime. Ignoring issues of racial bias in the jury system damages ‘both the fact and the perception’ of the jury’s role as “a vital check against the wrongful exercise of power by the State.’ ” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent to the Court’s 6 – 3 denial of Thomas’s petition for a writ of certiorari last October, citing Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado (2017). 

“The errors in this case render Thomas’ death sentence not only unreliable but unconstitutional. I would not permit the State to execute Andre Thomas in light of the ineffective assistance that he received,” Sotomayor concluded. 

So, now the decision of whether or not to kill Andre Thomas rests with Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Earlier this month, his attorneys asked Gov. Abbott and the Parole Board to commute his death sentence to life in prison or grant a reprieve. Dozens of Texas mental health professionals, advocates, and more than 100 Texas faith leaders, national Evangelical leaders, and leading mental health organizations have all filed letters supporting Thomas’s clemency application.

To kill him would be morally repugnant, and unconstitutional. Andre Thomas has been tortured his whole life. Shouldn’t he be spared a torturous death?

(Please sign this petition, sponsored by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Texas, insisting the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Abbott spare Andre Thomas’s life.) 

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