Wednesday, February 20, 2013

'Trouble in Mind'

A story by Brandi Grissom at Texas Monthly with the same title as this post tells the horrifying story of Andre Thomas, a schizophrenic capital murderer who plucked out both of his own eyes and ate them. An excerpt can't do it justice so read the whole thing, but this passage sums up the big picture question.
The toughest questions that Andre’s case presents, however, are not political in nature but moral. As a society, we want justice for the victims of his horrific crime. But what if Andre is not capable of understanding right from wrong or of comprehending why he is facing execution? Conversely, if the death penalty is not intended for someone who cuts out the hearts of two children, then for whom is it meant? At the center of this dilemma is Andre himself, who, now almost thirty, is presently too mentally ill to be housed on death row. For the past four years, he has been confined to a special psychiatric prison facility, where he remains indefinitely. All of which raises perhaps the most difficult question of all: What should be done with Andre Thomas?
See prior, related Grits posts:


Prison Doc said...

If one supports the death penalty--and I basically do--I don't know why one has to be sane to be executed. Is it more or less "humane" to execute the psychotic?

And is LWOP a humane option? I think it is, but some would disagree. Given the option I like to choose life. Who knows, maybe in the future effective agents will bring relief to severe schizophrenia. Unfortunately today in most cases they do not.

What to do with Andre? It would appear that long term institutionalization--kind of a "living" death penalty-- is the only viable option.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"I don't know why one has to be sane to be executed"

IANAL but as I understand it, the short answer is because the defendant is not capable of understanding right from wrong or why he is being executed, so none of the purposes of punishment are served except incapacitation, which can be done just by locking him up. This country has never condoned mercy killings, even when the person consents (assisted suicide). It's not the purpose of the death penalty to put him out of his misery but to cause him misery.

That said, I personally am among those who believes LWOP is NOT more "humane" than the death penalty, but I'm very much in the minority on that - both the abolitionists and the retributivists roundly disagree.

One does wonder if the whole episode could have been avoided if Thomas had had ready access to mental health services - he was 21, untreated and unmedicated at the time of the crime despite having been psychotic and suicidal for eleven years. He even tried to kill himself the night before he committed the murders. I'm not someone who believes every crime by a mentally ill person was caused by their mental illness, but in cases like this or Andrea Yates where he's hearing the voice of God tell him to do horrendous things, I do think there's a direct, causal link. The idea that the courts said Thomas is ineligible for the insanity defense to me is nearly as insane as he is.

Anonymous said...

This is a prime example of how nobobdy in the criminal justice system communicates with the local MHMR or hospitak for that matter. Psychiatry is a business, and with it comes extremely varying opinions. Since there is no way to do an mri, ct scan or any true medical test to find and treat the problem, cases like this will always exist. When Andre Thomas was sent to Vernon State Hospital, the treating psyhiatrist, Dr. Joseph Black deemed him to be malingering. Then TDCJ "psychiatrists" most likely an APN, or psychologist says that he is a "schizophrenic" and unfit to stand trial.
Problem is, Andre chose to use drugs and alcohol (so i guess he is competent enough to purchase alcohol and drugs to get intoxicated) but doesn't know that killing is wrong? Total bullshit. There is no purpose of keeping him alive for the next 50 or so years on the taxpayers dime.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:58, what does the ability to exchange money for drugs have to do with mental illness or competency?

And do you really think someone who plucked out both their eyes and ate them was "malingering"? Really?

Skifool said...

The legal problem with holding schizophrenics responsible for criminal behavior is that it can be treated, like other forms of mental illness (bi-polar, depression). Not saying I personally agree that schizophrenics should be subject to the death penalty.
I am very sympathetic to the defense attorney who cannot adequately represent his/her unmedicated schizophrenic client because of the client is extremely paranoid.

Anonymous said...

My ex-husband was one of the deputies working in the jail when Andrew Thomas was first arrested for the murder of his girlfriend and her baby.

My ex-husband was the one who found him, covered in his own blood. Calmly sitting in his isolation cell. When he asked him what happened, Mr. Thomas calmly opened up his hand and showed him his eye. I believe it was the right. When he asked Mr. Thomas why the hell he did that, he very calmly told him that the bible says to pluck out your eye if it makes you sin. He had to do it because he killed his family. Was his - once again - very calm response.

Before that he'd been found eating pages out of his bible.

As a nurse who's worked extensively in corrections and with the mentally ill, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Mr. Thomas has serious psychiatric illness. The fact that he was able to pull his own eye out of his head is testament to a very basic truth. Superifical nerves are highly sensitive in order to warn us from further injury. A healthy functioning brain is able to correctly detect the warnings from the pain receptors in those nerves so that we generally never get past them to cause more grievous injury. The fact that he was able to do such a thing to himself is a classic indicator that his neurological function is severely altered. My ex-husband quit working for the jail right after that incident and has refused to ever go back to law enforcement ever again.

Anonymous said...

The horrifying story?

I guess the murders he committed were not horror stories?