The disturbing case of Andre Thomas has again raised the question of how just how insane a defendant has to be in Texas to avoid the death penalty.
Thomas gouged out both of his own eyes in jail. He brutally murdered his estranged wife along with their young son and her 13-month-old daughter. According to reports, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic while in prison, and has heard voices in his head since childhood.
Despite all of this evidence that Thomas has a severe mental illness he is awaiting execution in Texas.
He was featured recently in an editorial in the Dallas Morning News which stated “the saga of condemned Texas murderer Andre Thomas resembles a medieval horror story featuring madness, a family’s homicidal slaughter, the defendant’s self-mutilation and a waiting executioner.”
The editorial went on to point out the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has “deferred to the jury verdict, ruling that Thomas “is clearly ‘crazy,’ but he is also ‘sane’ under Texas law.”
The fact this man who is clearly severely mental ill is on death row at all is disturbing because the execution of the insane violates the U.S. Constitution as established in the 1986 case Ford v. Wainwright.
However, the Ford decision left the determination of sanity up to each state.
“Constitutional protections for those with other forms of mental illness are minimal, however, and dozens of prisoners have been executed despite suffering from serious mental illnesses. The National Association of Mental Health has estimated that five to ten percent of those on death row have serious mental illness,” stated Amnesty International.
The organization points out in May 18, 2004, Kelsey Patterson was executed in Texas although he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1981 and “did not possess rational understanding at his trial.”
The state’s poor record over the execution of those with mental illnesses has led to a new bill that would limit the state’s ability to execute them.
The Texas Tribune recently highlighted how Texas executed Marvin Wilson last year for the 1992 murder of Jerry Robert Williams in Beaumont, Texas.
“The standards used to determine whether a Texan convicted of murder is mentally fit to be executed are based in part on the fictional character Lennie from John Steinbeck’s classic novel Of Mice and Men, a fact that enraged the author’s son,” stated the article.
“I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous and profoundly tragic,” Thomas Steinbeck the son of the famous writer told the publication. “I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.”
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has filed Senate Bill 750, which he says would establish more scientific standards to establish when a convicted Texan is too intellectually disabled to face the death penalty.
It may not progress far given that it revives a decade-old fight with prosecutors, who say Ellis’ proposal would make it too easy for defendants to claim they are mentally ill to avoid the death penalty.