Trouble in Mind is a six-part series exploring the intersections of the mental health and criminal justice systems in Texas. It examines the case of Andre Thomas, a death row inmate who began exhibiting signs of mental illness as a boy and committed a brutal triple murder in 2004. Blind because he pulled out both of his eyes while behind bars, Thomas awaits a federal court's decision on whether he is sane enough to be executed. This story is part of a collaboration with Texas Monthly magazine. Read the long-form narrative tale of the Andre Thomas case here.
Andre Thomas had ripped out his own eye after a long history of mental instability when he was found competent to stand trial and was later sentenced to death. His case raises critical questions about how the justice system deals with mentally ill defendants and whether they should be exempt from the death penalty.
Andre Thomas is among thousands of mentally ill inmates in a sprawling state prison system that is struggling to keep pace with the increasing need for mental health care. Medical staff say they need more state funding.
Hospitals don't have authority to detain people in mental crisis who voluntarily enter their facilities. Advocates for reform say that is one of many holes in the state’s nearly 30-year-old mental health code.
During his troubled adolescence, lawyers for death row inmate Andre Thomas say he never received the mental health care he needed. In Texas, there are few mechanisms to diagnose and treat youths who suffer from mental illness.
Texas has a long and unhappy history when it comes to mental health care. From the days of state-run asylums to underfunded local mental health services, those who have mental illness have faced daunting challenges finding care.
The case of death row inmate Andre Thomas offers a lens through which to examine the effects of a long underfunded mental health system and raises important questions about how Texas punishes the mentally ill.