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Texas judge: Eye-plucking inmate 'crazy' but sane

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MICHAEL GRACZYK | March 18, 2009 02:15 PM EST | AP

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HOUSTON — A condemned Texas inmate who removed his only eye and ate it in a bizarre outburst several months ago on death row is "crazy," yet sane under state law, a judge wrote in an appellate court ruling Wednesday that rejected his appeals.

Andre Thomas raised 44 claims in his petition to the state's highest criminal court, challenging his conviction and death sentence for the murder of his estranged wife's 13-month-old daughter five years ago in Grayson County in North Texas.

His wife and their 4-year-old son were killed in the same attack. The victims were stabbed and their hearts were ripped out. Thomas, 26, of Texoma, walked into the Sherman Police Department, admitted to the killings and said God told him to commit them.

The nine-member Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously upheld Thomas' conviction and punishment.

Thomas "is clearly 'crazy,' but he is also 'sane' under Texas law," Judge Cathy Cochran wrote in a 14-page statement accompanying the court's brief order.

Among claims in the appeal, Thomas' attorneys argued that instructions to his trial jury were incorrect regarding the law on voluntary intoxication, that the instruction should not have been given because it suggested his drug and alcohol use and not insanity were responsible for his actions, and that his trial attorneys were ineffective because they should have known the instructions were improper.

At Thomas' trial in Sherman in 2005, defense lawyers said the killings were the result of insane delusions caused solely by Thomas' mental disease. Jurors agreed with prosecutors, who argued his psychosis was caused or aggravated by his voluntary use of alcohol, drugs and prescription drugs.

"There was ample evidence to reject an insanity defense and support a jury finding that (Thomas) knew that his conduct was wrong at the time he murdered his wife and the children," Cochran wrote. "There was also evidence that (Thomas) did not know his conduct was wrong at the time. This was a quintessential fact issue for the jury to decide, and it did so."

Cochran wrote that although "reasonable people might well differ on the questions of whether (Thomas) 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."

While in the Grayson County Jail five days after his arrest, Thomas plucked out his right eye. A judge subsequently ruled he was competent to stand trial.

Last December, a death row officer at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice found Thomas in his cell with blood on his face and had him taken to the unit infirmary. Thomas told officials he had pulled out his remaining eye and ate it.

He was taken to a hospital for treatment, then was transferred to a prison psychiatric unit.

There was no reference to the second eye removal in the court opinion.

Thomas was convicted of killing 13-month-old Leyha Marie Hughes. Also slain March 27, 2004, were his wife, Laura Christine Boren, 20, and their son, 4-year-old Andre Lee.

"This is an extraordinarily tragic case," Cochran wrote, saying the deaths could have been avoided because Thomas twice went to hospitals for help but left voluntarily and couldn't be held without legal authority.