How crazy is too crazy to be executed? That is the question in the harrowing case of Andre Thomas, a Texas death row inmate who has gouged out both his eyes. Mr. Thomas' case is featured in an extraordinary, must-read story in the March issue of Texas Monthly,
Journalist Brandi Grissom paints a chilling picture of how mental health and criminal justice collide. Mr. Thomas is a paranoid schizophrenic who has heard voices in his head since he was nine. Doctors, psychologists and counselors who examined him when he was a teenager all recognized the extreme nature of his mental illness. Fearing what Andre would do to himself or others, they issued detention orders -- orders that the police twice failed to carry out. Just days after the last order was issued, Andre, following the commands of what he believed to be the voice of God, stabbed his estranged wife, their four-year old son, and his wife's thirteen-month old child by another man, and cut out the hearts of the children and a part of his wife's lung. He then stabbed himself multiple times in the heart and lay down to die. When he did not, he stuffed his family's organs in his pocket, walked home, attempted to call his wife, and turned himself into police.
A week later, following the dictates of the Bible, he took out his own eye.
He was declared incompetent for trial, and sent to a state hospital. Mere weeks later, he was declared competent, returned to stand trial, and convicted and sentenced to death.
While on death row in 2008, Mr. Thomas removed his remaining eye, and ate it, believing that doing so would stop the government from reading his thoughts. Since that time, he has been housed and heavily medicated at a psychiatric facility run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Nevertheless, the state continues to seek his execution -- the execution of a man so debilitatingly mentally ill that he has blinded himself. He is currently awaiting a court ruling that could determine his fate.
The Texas Monthly feature is a remarkable look at this important case and the undeniable depth of Mr. Thomas' mental illness.
The Texas Tribune, in collaboration with Texas Monthly, is also running a six-part series on Mr. Thomas' case, exploring the intersections of the mental health and criminal justice systems in Texas.
These important pieces call into grave question a system that would allow a death sentence for someone whose crime and entire life has been so clearly marked by devastating mental illness.