Texas death row inmate Andre Thomas' attorneys apply for clemency, citing mental illness

Andre Thomas gouged out his eyes after confessing to the 2004 stabbing deaths of his estranged wife, their son and her daughter.

ByStephen Simpson, The Texas Tribune
Thursday, February 16, 2023
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A clemency petition for death row inmate Andre Thomas was filed Wednesday asking that Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles commute the blind 39-year-old's sentence to life in prison or grant a reprieve to determine if Thomas is competent to be executed this year.

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Attached to the clemency petition were letters of support from dozens of Texas mental health professionals and more than 100 Texas faith leaders. Thomas, who first began experiencing hallucinations as a child, is facing an April 5 execution date.

Editor's note: This story contains graphic content.

"We are united in our conviction that it would be a senseless act of vengeance," Rev. Dr. Jaime Kowlessar, senior pastor of Dallas City Temple, said during a news conference Wednesday. "The answer to violence is never more violence."

Since his initial arrest in 2004 for the stabbing deaths of his estranged wife, Laura Boren, 20; their 4-year-old son, Andre Jr.; and her 1-year-old daughter, Leyha Hughes, Thomas has gouged out both his eyes. He immediately confessed to the murders and told investigators God had told him to carry out the killings. He was found guilty the following year in the youngest child's death, which carries an automatic death sentence.

"Andre Thomas is one of the most mentally ill prisoners in Texas history. Only the most mentally ill person could undertake these acts of permanent self-mutilation," Maurie Levine, his attorney, said Wednesday. "If ever there was a case that warranted mercy, it is this one."

Thomas has experienced mental illness his entire life and has been treated with medication while in prison.

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A day before the murders, Thomas sought help at a local hospital for his delusions. The intake form noted that he appeared psychotic and suicidal. He was left alone, and, believing that no one was helping him, he left the hospital.

Last October, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request to consider an appeal of Thomas' conviction, in which his lawyers argued that members of the jury that convicted him of killing his wife and two children had expressed racist views.

Thomas' appellate lawyers had argued that three members of the all-white jury - which found Thomas, who is Black, guilty - had expressed opposition to interracial marriage. His wife was white. Thomas' trial lawyer did not object to the jurors at the time.

Five days after the murders, while awaiting trial in the Grayson County jail, he gouged out his right eye. After he was sent to state prison, he gouged out his remaining eye and ate it.

At a news conference called by his attorney to discuss the filing, Levine pointed out that House Bill 727 authored by state Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, would ensure that capital defendants with "severe mental illness" are sentenced to life without parole rather than death.

In 2021, the House passed similar legislation with strong bipartisan support. The legislation is not retroactive and would not apply to Thomas or others who have already been convicted.

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