How Crazy Is Too Crazy to Be Executed? The voices told Andre Thomas to gouge out his eyes. But even that hasn’t convinced the state of Texas to reconsider being a single mother essay death sentence.
But even that hasn’t convinced the state of Texas to reconsider his death sentence. The voices told Andre Thomas to rip out his eyes in prison. But in Texas, that’s apparently not enough to reconsider his execution. Looking for news you can trust? Subscribe to our free newsletters. Andre Thomas is escorted by officers during his 2005 murder trial.
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. 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. 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. 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. Vivian had never been selective with men.
She had nine children with five of them starting at the age of 14. After Vivian left Johnny, she married a man named Walter Martin, and the pattern continued—heavy drinking and a steady diet of domestic violence. It was in 1973, during one of their battles, that Walter put a gun to Vivian’s head. Andre’s uncle Gregory, who was all of 17 at the time, tried to pull the gun away, and that’s when Walter shot him in the stomach, killing him. Vivian’s daughter Rochelle, who was closest in age to Gregory, never recovered from his killing. She, too, drank heavily, suffered from depression, and according to her siblings was sexually molested by Walter. Rochelle was Andre’s mother, and that was half the genetic pie.
Andre’s mostly absentee father, Danny Thomas, came from practically the same background—generational alcoholism, violence, mental illness. One of his brothers suffered from alcohol-induced dementia. Another was locked up in a state mental retardation ward. Looking at both wings of the family side-by-side was like snipping away at a piece of folded paper in elementary school and opening it to find two identical sides of a snowflake. But what did it all add up to when you stacked Andre’s background against the removal of people’s hearts? Alcohol, violence, mental illness, trauma—that isn’t an unusual background for a death row inmate.