Wednesday, February 27, 2013

If Thy Right Eye Offend Thee

I've taken the title of this post from the King James Version.  As some wag said, even if the Bible wasn't divinely inspired, the King James Version surely was.  Here's the whole verse.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
My guess, and it's only that though perhaps I could find out with a phone call or two, is that Andre Thomas wasn't reading the KJV when he came across Matthew 5:29.  It doesn't much matter.  Every translation recommends auto-enucleation as an alternative to eternal damnation.

Anyway, the thing is that Thomas apparently took it as good advice, the actual word of God to be followed literally.  So six days after his ritual killings of his wife, their 4-year-old son, and her 13-month-old daughter, he plucked out his right eye and threw it in the trash.

Did I say "ritual killings"?  Yes, although that doesn't seem to be how they're otherwise spoken of.  Still, the voices, voices of God and his angels, told him that his wife was Jezebel, their son the anti-Christ, her daughter simply evil.  And they told him to kill each with a separate knife so as to avoid cross-contamination.  And so he did.  And he cut out the hearts of the boy and girl, and a piece of the lung of his wife thinking it her heart.  And he put those pieces in his pocket.  And then stabbed himself three times in the chest and lay down to die beside his beloved Laura.

After a while, not having died and all, Andre Thomas picked himself up, went home for a bit, called his mother in law, and then wandered over to the police station and told the cops what he'd done.  They took him to the hospital where the docs staunched the bleeding.

This was Texas and it won't surprise you, I suppose, to learn that Andre Thomas ended up on death row.  Oh, he was crazy as a bedbug when he did that killing, and it's not that he hadn't had mental issues before, but it was the alcohol and the drugs and the cold pills that put him over the edge.  So opined the experts speaking to the jury on behalf of the Lone Star State, those the jury chose to believe.  And since that was so, he didn't satisfy the legal standard for being Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity.  So said the jury.  And of course, being a crazy person made him dangerous.  Hence, as I said, on to death row.

Now Texas maintains that he's not too crazy to be killed.  Oh, sure he's spent the last going-on-five years now in the state psychiatric prison for the truly fucking insane.  And, oh, yeah, there is the fact that he thinks the folks he killed are still alive.  And while he knows they want to kill him, that's because he's so superior that God and the Angels speak directly to him and they don't want anyone that superior (superior isn't my word, it's his - taught him by his mother who also has those auditory hallucinations). And did I mention that despite the fluffy mittens he wears 24/7 so he won't be able to hurt himself, he continues to attempt suicide and he somehow managed to  - wait for it - pluck out his left eye.

And eat it.

But yeah, it's OK to kill him.  Because he understands that he's going to be killed and that it's as a consequence of his having killed Laura and the children.  You know, the ones he thinks are still alive even though he killed them, and that aren't the reason he's to be killed anyway.

This isn't just me talking.   Here's Judge Cathy Cochran of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals explaining in 2009 why the case was troubling but how it is that she agreed with her colleagues that Thomas should get no relief.
Applicant has a severe mental illness. He suffers from psychotic delusions and perhaps from schizophrenia. He also has a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. Because of his drug abuse, he was frequently truant, quit school in the ninth grade, and had a series of juvenile and adult arrests. Dr. Axelrad, called by both the State and defense, testified that the twenty-one-year-old applicant told him that he had been abusing alcohol since age ten and marijuana since age thirteen, and, in the month before the murders, had been taking large doses of Coricidin, a cold medicine, for recreational purposes.
Applicant's behavior in the months before the killings became increasingly "bizarre": He put duct tape over his mouth and refused to speak; he talked about how the dollar bill contains the meaning of life; he stated that he was experiencing deja vu and reliving events time and again; he had a religious fixation and heard the voice of God. In the weeks before the murders, applicant was heard by others talking about his auditory and visual hallucinations of God and demons.
About twenty days before the killings, he took Coricidin and then tried to commit suicide by overdosing on other medications. He was taken to the local MHMR facility, but then walked away before he could be treated. Two days before the killings, he drank vodka and took about ten Coricidin tablets and then stabbed himself. His mother took him to the local hospital. But again, applicant left the hospital before he could be committed for observation or psychiatric treatment. On two occasions in the days before the killings, applicant was seen by friends to be highly intoxicated; they described him as vomiting, delirious, incapacitated, and lying on the floor.
. . .
Although reasonable people might well differ on the questions of whether this applicant was sane at the time he committed these murders or competent at the time he was tried, those issues were appropriately addressed by the defense, the prosecution, trial judge, and the jury during the trial. The evidentiary basis for those sanity and competency issues could have been addressed on direct appeal, thus they are procedurally barred (as well as without merit). His ineffective assistance claims are, as the trial judge found, without merit. In sum, applicant has failed to prove that he is entitled to relief on his application for a writ of habeas corpus. This is a sad case. Applicant is clearly "crazy," but he is also "sane" under Texas law.
I put that last sentence in italics (and deleted footnotes, by the way), but the sentence is worth repeating separately.
Applicant is clearly "crazy," but he is also "sane" under Texas law.
Now, that may not make a lot of sense to ordinary folk who think that batshit crazy is batshit crazy.  But as lawyers, we know that what makes no sense is frequently the very core of our legal system.  And so the Supreme Court said that while it's not OK to kill the insane, it's perfectly fine to kill crazy people as long as they aren't insane in a particular way.

The Court decided Ford v. Wainwright in 1986. The takeaway from Ford is that the Constitution does not permit the execution of those

who are unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it.
And while the second part of that seems to apply pretty clearly to Andre Thomas, he's gotten no traction on that to date from the courts.

It's now unconstitutional to execute those with mental retardation (see Atkins v. Virginia) and those who were under 18 at the time of their crime (Roper v. Simmons).  The next category of exclusion will almost certainly be those with serious mental illness.  (Don't hold your breath, but perhaps within the next five years or so.)  

Until then, Andre Thomas, who threw out one of his eyes and ate the other, who hears God's voice and acted on its direction, who believes his murder victims remain alive is crazy but sane.  Or so say the courts.

His eyelids, by the way, have been surgically closed so as not to reveal the gaping holes.

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