Insanity in Texas. Andre Thomas faces the death penalty.

Hold on tight crime fans because this one is as sad as it is messy. This case shows what mental illnesses can cause if not treated properly. As of this moment, Andre Lee Thomas (37) is awaiting a decision if he is sane enough to receive the death penalty for the triple homicide of his ex-wife Laura Boren (20), his son Andre Thomas Jr. (4), and his 13-month old stepdaughter Leyha Hughes back in 2004.

Andre Lee Thomas
Andre Lee Thomas | Source: News 12

Early years and childhood

Andre Lee Thomas was born on March 17, 1983, to Danny and Rochelle Thomas. Rochelle had 4 other sons prior to her marriage to Danny Thomas. In his early years, Andre's father wasn't around much, and the family lived in poverty, as their home did not have electricity or running water.

Despite their financial situation, the boys attended the Harmony Baptist Church regularly and Andre was quite fascinated by the Bible. The church made a great impact on him as they would also provide food and clothes for the struggling family. People who knew him as a kid described him as a very curious, knowledge-seeking, and respectful child. From a young age, he wanted to take things apart and figure out how they work. He did well in school up until the third grade.

Around 1993, when Andre was 10 years old, he started to show disturbing signs of mental problems. He would tell his classmates that he is hearing voices of angels and demons fighting. He would shout at the demons trying to make the voices go away. These early signs of schizophrenia would cause him to try and commit suicide while he was still in elementary school by cutting his wrists. When the voices became too strong to handle, Andre turned to alcohol and marijuana to handle the situation.

Teenage Life

At 12 years old Andre is put on probation for the first time on August 25, 1995. The probation plan required him to obey a curfew and check in the courthouse twice a week. This probation was not signed by his parents.

Around the age of 13, he tried committing suicide again by slicing his wrists with a butcher knife. His attendance at the church dropped and he seemed lost in his own world. Sometimes the voices would go away and he would act like a normal teenager, riding his bike around town.

When he was 16 he was expelled from school and on June 30, 1999, he again tried to kill himself by scratching the skin off of his wrists with his fingernails. He dropped out of high school when he was in the ninth grade when he found out his girlfriend Laura Boren was pregnant. He began working two jobs to support them, he worked in Burger King and in The Red Lobster as a dishwasher.

On August 30, 1999, his son Andre Lee Thomas Junior was born. Andre and Laura tied the knot on Andre's 18th birthday (March 17, 2001) in the Harmony Baptist Church. Now, as a married man, he thought that the hallucinations and suicidal thoughts would stop, but the marriage lasted for only four months.

Divorced and Lost

Following his separation from Laura, Andre's behavior became even more erratic. The voices in his head were even louder and he experienced psychotic delusions. His obsession with the Bible deepened as he searched for salvation in his faith. He would often duck tape his mouth shut for days.

Laura moved on with a man named Bryant Hughes, with whom she had a daughter Leyha Hughes. Andre was still fixated on the idea that he and Laura will get back together. That would never happen.

On January 27, 2002, Andre was arrested on an assault charge and his history of suicide attempts. In January of 2003, he was arrested and put on suicide watch because he stabbed his brother over an argument of music. His brother believed the music Thomas was listening to was sending evil spirits through the walls. The brother was placed in a mental health institution. In January of 2004, Andre loses his job as a maintenance worker.

In March of 2004, Andre is taken by a friend to a mental health institution, where he tells the staff ''Life is too much for me. I want to die right now''. A judge signs an emergency detention warrant which was not enforced. A few days after that his aunt dies of complications related to lung disease.

March 26, 2004, Andre goes to Texoma Medical Centre after he stabbed himself in the chest. He was clearly mentally ill, speaking about delusions and demons. A warrant is issued on the spot, but Andre leaves before law enforcement arrives. We can conclude that by 2004, Andre was a 21-year-old who was deeply mentally ill and had received no treatment.

March 27, 2004

On this day, early in the morning, Andre went to his ex-wife's apartment which was located on the third floor. He entered by kicking down the door. Laura's boyfriend, Bryant had already left work.

Thomas was holding three knives, one for each of his future victims. Firstly he encountered Laura, who ran toward him, screaming “No!” Andre stabbed her in the chest multiple times. He then proceeded by reaching into her chest and pulling out what he believed was her heart. In reality, he had extracted a part of her lung. Next, he moved on to the children's room, where 4-year-old Andre Junior and 13-month-old Leyha were sleeping. He held down his son and stabbed him, after that, he moved on to Layha. He carved both of the children's hearts out.

Realizing what he had just done Andre jammed the knife into his chest three times and laid beside his ex-wife in the living room hoping to die. But he didn't, he survived. He took the hearts into his pockets and walked five miles back to his home. A few hours passed and he turned himself in at the Sherman Police Department. He confessed to the murders and asked if he would be forgiven. He later told investigators that he thought it was what God wanted him to do.

Andre went through emergency surgery for his wounds and was later moved to the Grayson County Jail. While in jail his behavior and psychosis got even worse. He would announce that he is the savior of the world and that his victims were not actually dead, their spirits were freed from evil. During his time in jail, he used to read the Bible a lot.

On March 30, 2004, at 5:00 p.m., jail psychologist Cactus Robin McGirk examined Thomas to apprise officials of what kind of mental health care and treatment the prisoner would need during his pre-trial incarceration. He diagnosed Thomas as a “paranoid schizophreniac” with a “considerably impaired” judgment process.

Six days after the murders, on the second day of April 2004, he read the passage Matthew 5:29:

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

Apparently, he took the passage to heart, as he removed his eyeball from its socket. Afterward, while being rushed to the hospital he would ask to see Laura. He wanted to ask her for forgiveness. He said that the children loved him, but she could not.

The trial

Nearly a year after the triple-homicide, in 2015 a jury found Andre Lee Thomas guilty of capital murder and sentenced him to death. Andre's lawyers argued that he is not guilty by the reason of insanity. Those arguments were rejected. Prosecutors on the other hand stated that Andre's insanity was fueled by his abuse of drugs, alcohol, and medicine. And his erratic behavior after he was jailed was due to the absence of them. Also, the prosecution team presented a report from a doctor that stated that Andre is exaggerating his mental illness to avoid punishment.

Andre was sent to death row in Livingston, where he spent 23 hours a day in isolation, confined to a six-by-ten-foot cell. His mental state continued to deteriorate even more. The voices of angels and demons in his head continued to haunt him. He could not comprehend why he was being punished for completing God's will.

With medication and treatment, Thomas eventually was found mentally competent to stand trial, because he could communicate and assist his attorney in his defense. At trial, he was found to be sane at the time of the crime because he knew the difference between right and wrong. And he may be found competent to be executed if he understands what execution means and why he is being killed.

He would often slit his wrists and throat while awaiting trial. He also threatened to hang himself. Finally, on December 12, 2008, Andre removed his remaining eyeball and ate it after being convicted.

The trial jury assessed Thomas’ punishment as death by lethal injection. In post-verdict discussions with the trial judge and attorneys, and in media interviews, jurors stated that they had wanted to hear “true remorse” from Thomas. These sentiments reflect just how difficult it was to deal with such a complex issue as “legal insanity” or “mental illness.”

Determining Insanity

Under current Texas state law, mentally ill defendants undergo tests of mental competence at several stages:

Before trial: Defendants must be able to understand the trial process and be able to communicate with their attorney and understand the proceedings. A judge may make the determination at an examining trial where the defendant is represented by an attorney and may present evidence from experts. The defendant may request a jury decision.
At the time of the crime: If the defendant claims at trial to be not guilty by reason of insanity, he must prove he did not know his conduct was wrong while committing the crime. As in any criminal trial, he may request a judge or a jury.
At the time of execution: If the case results in a death penalty, an inmate cannot be executed if he does not understand what it means to be executed and why he is being put to death. If a claim of incompetence is made, a judge must hold a hearing to determine competency. Lower courts differ on whether an inmate may be forcibly medicated to achieve competency, which makes him eligible for execution. The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on forcible medication.

(Source: The Dallas Morning News)

As of now Andre is blind and awaiting his execution at the Jester IV unit, a psychiatric prison. He has been sitting on death row for 15 years and his attorneys are continuing to make appeals. This case brings up questions and causes debates as to how the juridical system and mental illnesses interact. The state of Texas is in a rather messy situation with this case. And not only this particular case. More than 15 % of the Texas state’s (around 152,000) inmates currently have a mental health diagnosis. On Texas’s death row, more than 20 % of the 290 inmates are considered mentally ill.

I personally think that Andre Thomas was severely mentally ill, unfortunately, he received no help nor the proper treatment, and maybe this is what led to the events of March 2004. He showed early signs of psychosis which was never treated. He tried to commit suicide on multiple occasions from the time he was 10 years old! There is no excuse for the horrendous crime that he committed. However, it makes me wonder if he was admitted into a mental health facility permanently, would it end this way?

Laura Boren with her children
Laura Boren with her children

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