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April 11, 2009

"Killer who tore out own eyes fuels Texas debate on insanity defense"

The title of this post is the headline of this piece from the Dallas Morning News.  Here are some excerpts from the piece:

Everyone agrees Andre Thomas is crazy. In 2004, he cut out the hearts of his wife and her two children and pocketed them. Before his murder trial, he plucked out his right eye. In January, while on death row, he ripped out his other eye and swallowed it.

Thus far, courts say Thomas is not insane. His case is a classic example of the complexities of Texas' insanity defense law – and why some mental health advocates are pushing to change it. Several bills pending in the Texas Legislature would do just that....

Thomas is "clearly 'crazy,' " a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote in a concurring denial of his appeal last month, "but he is also 'sane' under Texas law."

Death penalty opponent Maurie Levin, an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law, is appalled. "There is something just horribly wrong with a system that permits somebody as severely mentally ill as Andre Thomas to be found competent to stand trial or sane at the time of that crime," said Levin, who consulted with Thomas' defense attorney.

[Professor Bruce] Winick ... expects the U.S. Supreme Court eventually to weigh in on the issue. So far, the court has ruled only that an inmate must be competent to be executed. Last summer the high court also ruled a mentally ill defendant cannot represent himself in court.  But the court has not ruled on whether an inmate may be forcibly medicated to render him competent – and therefore eligible for execution. That issue may be ripe for the Supreme Court to decide.

Winick thinks the court ultimately may have to rule whether it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on someone who is sane but mentally ill. That issue is a "natural extension," he said, of the court's decisions prohibiting execution for the mentally retarded and juveniles because they have less ability to understand the consequences of their crimes.

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April 11, 2009 at 02:36 PM | Permalink


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From Sentencing Law and Policy: Everyone agrees Andre Thomas is crazy. In 2004, he cut out the hearts of his wife and her two children and pocketed them. Before his murder trial, he plucked out his right eye. In January,... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 11, 2009 10:04:01 PM


The defendant is among the most dangerous people on earth. He has no internal control. Any judge, expert or defense attorney that seeks to reverse the death penalty should be forced to spend a shift guarding him. Those who understand the consequences of their acts, rather than only their own reasons, do not murder others, nor rip out body parts.

The reasoning above, by the lawyers, comes from mortal sin analysis and Scholasticism. The Establishment Clause prohibits it, in our secular nation.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 11, 2009 3:58:35 PM

"Those who understand the consequences of their acts, rather than only their own reasons, do not murder others, nor rip out body parts."

Oh, that's just stuff and nonsense. First, there is no standard definition of what sanity is, let alone agreement on how to define what insanity is. While it certainly is true that being able to comprehend the consequences of one's actions is a mark of rationality; rationality is not sanity. It it perfectly consistent with sanity to murder others or rip out body parts. For example. one definition of sane that was used in the law from quite some time was whether the person was able to tell right from wrong. People do things which they know are wrong and do them any way. Under that definition of sanity, it is perfectly sane to rip out one's own eyes. It's rather choice that you bring in a link to Mortal Sin when it was Jesus himself who said in the Book of Matthew, "if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off." Indeed, it's not difficult to conceive of situations where not only would ripping out one's eyes be sane, but quite the rational action.

"Everyone agrees Andre Thomas is crazy."

Not me, I haven't treated the man personally so I toss that caveat out there, but there is nothing in his reported behavior that I have read in the press that would make me conclude he was psychologically insane. His behavior is clearly socially unacceptable, and he is obviously a danger to both himself and others; but that doesn't mean he's insane.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 11, 2009 5:06:45 PM

Dan: Texas follows the McNaghten Rule. It is a mitigating factor, not an excuse nor a justification. Think of it as the definition of insanity in Texas. Briefly, "...it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong." The Unabomber had paranoid schizophrenia, but had a very clear and sophisticated knowledge of his criminal acts.

The defendant knew what he was doing, and keeps doing it. That makes him more dangerous than other murderers. He requires the death penalty more than others, for safety.

Mental illness behavior has the same mechanism as other behavior. If it mitigates consequences to the defendant, then the involuntariness of the talent to swing a golf club as Tiger Woods does is as involuntary. Tiger Woods' salary should be mitigated by his brain based talent. You have the gift of gab. If you make your living from it, your salary should be mitigated by this involuntary gift of gab.

You should go to law school. You would enjoy it. Psychology is the basic science of the law. Lawyers do not know any. Punishment is the sole tool of the law. Lawyers and judges know nothing about it. You could help the lawyers mitigate their sicko Medieval garbage delusions from 1250 AD.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 11, 2009 5:33:35 PM

"His behavior is clearly socially unacceptable...but that doesn't mean he's insane."

Quite so, though you'd have to admit that ripping one's own eyeballs and eating them is a terrible faux pas.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Apr 11, 2009 9:49:04 PM

Michael: You should volunteer to help Thomas. Be a guard for a shift, give him counseling, write him letters, or rather send him recordings. Show us how to handle things. Same request goes for Prof. Berman. Do that for as long as you want him kept alive.

Don't be hypocrites like the Justices of the Supreme Court. Advocate to keep him alive, but have others suffer his behavior.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 11, 2009 10:17:24 PM


If this man ends up spending life in prison instead of the DP he's blind and most probable, spend his entire life in solitary confine because of his condition and the nature of his crime. Anyone that ends up having to care for this man are there on their own accord and being PAID to do it.

How about his lawyer? Assigned there by the courts to defend this man, and sit next to him during the whole trail, did he suffer his behavior?

Posted by: MarkM | Apr 11, 2009 11:22:08 PM

Wasn't there a thread here that solitary confinement is a human rights violation? In this case, the lawyer will argue it caused or aggravated his crazy conduct, even though it did not.

His lawyer is at great physical risk from the time spent in proximity to Thomas. I would want to speak to him by phone, behind a glass barrier.

I am surprised the prison has not been sued for allowing him to enucleate himself. They had full control of his body, and negligently allowed it. Furthermore, they had clear warning of his ability and tendency to do so from past conduct. This man will generate massive costs for treatment, injuries of self and others, litigation from those injuries, and solitary confinement. Naturally, any deprivation will be deemed cruel and unusual, and generate even more litigation. That is what's it's really about. The Rent.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 11, 2009 11:30:34 PM

Does anyone really care if this guy gets the big jab? His crime was awful. We've already expended resources to get his death penalty, and it's time to put him down.

For 99% of those executed, no one cares an iota once they're gone.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 12, 2009 12:55:55 PM

Mr. Drake.

I was going to say that it is certainly true that some people have no taste. But then I realized this probably isn't true, he probably liked the taste so much, he couldn't eat just one.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 12, 2009 6:52:24 PM

The Lord, Jesus Christ, cares, and that's all that matters, federalist. May the Lord forgive you for your death-obsessed ways.

Posted by: Aaron | Apr 13, 2009 4:30:40 PM

Well, Aaron, maybe He will and maybe He won't. I am not religious, so it's not a big concern either way.

I assume, Aaron, that you get worked up about healthy viable fetuses that our President thinks can be executed with zero due process . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Apr 14, 2009 2:02:56 PM

"he probably liked the taste so much, he couldn't eat just one"

Taste is in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Apr 15, 2009 9:36:41 PM

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