That's the title of Brandi Grissom's report in the today's Texas Tribune, the sixth and final installment in her series, "Trouble in Mind." Here's the beginning:
On Feb. 15, 2005, nearly a year after Andre Thomas committed a brutal triple murder that rocked this North Texas town — the stabbing and mutilation of his estranged wife, Laura Boren, 20, their 4-year-old son, Andre Jr., and her 1-year-old daughter, Leyha Hughes — Thomas’ much-awaited trial began.
“I really can’t remember a single person I spoke to in town who didn’t think it should be prosecuted as a death penalty case,” Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown recalled.
Sitting at the defense table, Thomas appeared almost catatonic at times. He wore a black patch where his right eye had been and munched on Skittles during some of the trial’s most stomach-churning testimony.
Despite the fact that he had ripped out his eye and had a long history of mental instability, 21-year-old Thomas was found competent to stand trial and was later sentenced to death. At age 29, he is blind — he pulled out his other eye while on death row — and is awaiting execution in a psychiatric prison. In a federal appeal, Thomas’ lawyers argue that his trial was unfair and that executing the mentally ill man would “make a mockery of our system of justice.” Prosecutors in Grayson County argue that Thomas’ drinking and drug abuse exacerbated whatever mental issues he had and fueled his rage, that he exaggerated symptoms of mental illness, and that the jury fairly assessed his punishment. (Click here to view an interactive timeline of the case.)
For criminal justice advocates, Thomas’ case raises critical questions about how courts determine competency for trial and about the fairness of a legal system that prevents juries from knowing what might happen to a defendant if they find him not guilty by reason of insanity. Most starkly, Thomas’ case presents questions about how mentally ill defendants who commit unimaginable crimes should be punished and whether they should be exempt from the death penalty, an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court may soon tackle.
This collaboration between the Tribune and Texas Monthly runs in a different form in the March edition of TM, "Trouble in MInd: How should criminals who are mentally ill be punished?"
Salon takes note of Grissom's reporting in, "A schizophrenic who gouged out his eyes is on Texas death row," by Natasha Lennard.
Texas Tribune managing editor Brandi Grissom has followed Thomas’ case closely. As she noted in an excellent feature for theTexas Monthly, “as he awaits execution, Andre and his tragic case force uncomfortable questions about the intersection of mental illness and the criminal justice system.” Thomas is certainly not the only death row inmate to have been diagnosed with mental illness; more than 20 percent of the 290 inmates on Texas’ death row are considered mentally ill, as Grissom noted. But the extremity of his situation has prompted fervid responses locally and nationally. “It’s astonishing, just how many problems in the legal system [this case] exemplifies,” said Levin in a phone interview.
Who gets to be sane? Who gets to be accountable? Who gets to be executed? — Thomas, fully blind and heavily medicated, faces the death penalty as a limit case for Texas’ answer to these problematic questions.
Earlier coverage of Andre Thomas begins at the link.