HOUSTON — Attorneys for a Texas death row inmate who removed his only eye and ate it in a bizarre outburst several years ago are arguing to a federal appeals court that he's too mentally ill to be executed for killing his estranged wife's 13-month old daughter.
Andre Thomas' estranged wife and their 4-year-old son also were murdered in the same attack in March 2004 in Grayson County, about 60 miles (96.56 kilometers) north of Dallas. The victims were stabbed and had their hearts ripped out. Thomas told police he put the hearts in his pocket, took them home where he placed them in a plastic bag and then threw them in the trash.
Thomas, 35, has a history of mental problems. While in jail in Sherman five days after his arrest, he plucked out one of his eyes. A judge ruled him competent for trial. While on death row in 2009, he removed his remaining eye and told prison officials he ate it. He's now at a prison psychiatric unit.
A federal judge in 2016 rejected an appeal from Thomas and his attorneys took that refusal to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was hearing their oral arguments Tuesday on whether appeals can move forward.
In written filings before the arguments, attorney Catherine M.A. Carroll contended Thomas' mental illness went undiagnosed and untreated "until after the delusions it caused led him to commit the crime here."
She also argued Thomas' trial lawyers failed to challenge a judge's ruling that found Thomas competent for trial, didn't request a competency hearing, failed to uncover and present to jurors "a wealth of evidence demonstrating that Thomas' mental illness was profound and long-standing" and allowed racially biased jurors to be impaneled.
Thomas is black. His estranged wife was white.
State attorneys are contesting the appeal, saying defense lawyers questioned jurors extensively about race, that there was no evidence of Thomas' mental illness within two months of the slayings, that Thomas' drug and alcohol abuse was responsible for his mental problems and that while execution of "the intellectually disabled" is barred, courts have not extended that prohibition to the mentally ill.
"The 5th Circuit has consistently refused to find a connection between the intellectually disabled and the mentally ill, repeatedly rejecting arguments like the one Thomas makes now," Fredericka Sargent, an assistant Texas attorney general, told the court.
Thomas was convicted of killing 13-month-old Leyha Marie Hughes. Also slain March 27, 2004, were his wife, Laura Christine Boren, 20, and their son, 4-year-old Andre Lee.
Thomas, from Texoma, walked into the Sherman Police Department and told a dispatcher he had murdered the three. He said God had told him to commit the killings.