The voices told Andre Thomas to gouge out his eyes. But even that hasn’t convinced the state of Texas to reconsider his death sentence.
Years later, after Andre Thomas had been convicted of killing his estranged wife, his 4-year-old son and her 13-month-old daughter in the most bizarre case in Grayson County history, after he had received a death sentence and been told that it would be imposed at the appropriate future time, after he had been dispatched to Texas’ death row to wait his turn with the other condemned men and women, the prosecutors were still talking about “the eyeball issue.”
Certainly there were other details that made the crime uniquely memorable. For one thing, Andre had cut out the children’s hearts and returned home with the organs in his pockets. For another, he was careful to use three different knives so that the blood from each body would not cross-contaminate, thereby ensuring that the demons inside each of them would die. He then stabbed himself in the chest, but he did not die as he had hoped. In fact, he was well enough to leave a message on his wife’s parents’ phone explaining that he thought he was in hell, and he managed to confess to the police what he had done before they took him in for emergency surgery.
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The entire episode had biblical overtones—Andre had convinced himself that his wife was Jezebel, his son the Antichrist, and her daughter just plain evil. In short, the case had enough spectacular aspects to keep the most jaded of court watchers buzzing for months, but it was the eyeball issue that garnered most of the attention. And that was only the beginning.
But the beginning of the crime is never the beginning of the story. A case like this one doesn’t drop cleanly out of the sky, just as no one suddenly wakes up one day and decides to take an Uzi to the mall. Andre, who was raised in Sherman, Texas, a small town about 60 miles north of Dallas, had gnarled roots, and it was next to impossible not to trip over them. People like me, who do capital defense work for a living—and lest you be curious, I have never been an attorney for Andre Thomas—like to draw family trees, because patterns of mental illness and substance abuse and domestic discord and parental neglect tend to emerge from their branches like an old Polaroid developing on the kitchen table.
Andre’s family tree had all of these patterns going back two generations, and likely you could have gone back two more and found the same assortment of disabilities. This is not only true of stricken souls like Andre—take a look at the family trees of Ernest Hemingway, or the composer Robert Schumann, and you’ll see manic depression and suicide running through their branches as well. But Andre’s was more tortured than most. You’d have to look long and hard to find a pedigree more predictive of disaster.
Andre’s grandmother, Vivian, was already a full-blown drunk by her mid-teens, so it’s hardly surprising that she fell in with drunks as well. Johnny, Andre’s grandfather, beat Vivian regularly, occasionally threatened to kill her with his gun, and once pushed her to the ground when she was pregnant, breaking the foot of her child in utero. Johnny was vicious but also strange—one of Vivian’s children remembered the time he threw all the food in the house into the yard.
Read the full article by Marc Bookman.