On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court decided – along partisan lines – against hearing an appeal from a Black man on death row in Texas who was found guilty by an all-white jury with at least three members who espoused racist views.
In 2005, Andre Thomas was convicted of killing his white wife, his son and his stepdaughter. Thomas, who has a long history of mental illness, alleges his lawyers at the time allowed the inclusion of jurors who expressed misgivings about the idea of interracial marriages.
Thomas pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. When he confessed to the murders, he said he had killed his family to “free them from evil.” While awaiting trial, he gouged out one of his own eyeballs. Years later, he gouged out his other eyeball and ate it.
Despite the clear signs and a long history of mental illness — Thomas began hearing voices well before he was a teenager, and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and active psychosis — Thomas’s lawyers at the time did a poor job of presenting evidence to back up his insanity plea, his current lawyers allege. They also failed to oppose the appointment of the racist jurors.
One juror seated at his trial stated in a questionnaire that they “vigorously” opposed interracial marriage, adding that they didn’t believe “God intended” such unions to occur. Another juror stated, “We should stay within our bloodline,” when asked about interracial marriages.
Prosecutors in Texas also apparently used the jurors’ bigoted viewpoints to their advantage. “Are you going to take the risk about [Thomas] asking your daughter out or your granddaughter out?” one of the prosecutors asked the panel of white jurors during the trial.
Thomas’s lawyers, hoping to impede the death sentence given to him, appealed his case to the Supreme Court. All six conservative justices decided against hearing his appeal, in spite of the evidence demonstrating racial bias and the ineptitude of his original lawyers. They gave no reasoning as to why they voted against allowing the appeal to move forward.
All three liberal justices stated that they would have granted Thomas’s appeal, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing why the High Court should have done so.
“This case involves a heinous crime apparently committed by someone who suffered severe psychological trauma. Whether Thomas’ psychological disturbances explain or in any way excuse his commission of murder, however, is beside the point,” Sotomayor said. “No jury deciding whether to recommend a death sentence should be tainted by potential racial biases that could infect its deliberations or decision, particularly where the case involved an interracial crime.”
Sotomayor also blasted Thomas’s former lawyers, adding:
By failing to challenge, or even question, jurors who were hostile to interracial marriage in a capital case involving that explosive topic, Thomas’s counsel performed well below an objective standard of reasonableness. This deficient performance prejudiced Thomas by depriving him of a fair trial.
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