HOUSTON — Next month's scheduled execution of a Texas death row inmate, whose attorneys say gouged out both of his eyes - each a separate incident - because of severe mental illness, was delayed by a judge on Tuesday.
Andre Thomas had been set to be executed on April 5, sentenced to death for fatally stabbing in March 2004 his estranged wife Laura Christine Boren, 20, their 4-year-old son Andre Lee and her 13-month-old daughter Leyha Marie Hughes, cutting out the hearts of the two children.
He later told police God had instructed him to commit the killings and that he believed all three were demons. The killings of Boren and her children shocked Sherman, a city of about 45,000 residents 65 miles north of Dallas.
State District Judge Jim Fallon on Tuesday issued an order withdrawing the execution date. Fallon's decision came after Thomas' lawyers had requested additional time to prepare for a court hearing to review his competency.
The judge's ruling came on the same day that Texas executed Gary Green, an inmate convicted of fatally stabbing his estranged wife and drowning her 6-year-old daughter in a bathtub in 2009.
The Supreme Court has prohibited the death penalty for the intellectually disabled, but not for people with serious mental illness. However, it has ruled that a person must be competent to be executed.
"We are confident that when we present the evidence of Mr. Thomas's incompetence, the court will agree that executing him would violate the Constitution," Maurie Levin, Thomas' attorney, wrote in a statement. "Guiding this blind psychotic man to the gurney for execution offends our sense of humanity and serves no legitimate purpose."
His attorneys have said that after he gouged out the second eye, he ate it to ensure that the government could not hear his thoughts.
More than 100 faith leaders and others had earlier asked Gov. Greg Abbott to stop the 39-year-old's execution.
J. Kerye Ashmore, with the Grayson County District Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the case, said the faith leaders and others calling for clemency for Thomas are not fully informed about the case and have not read any reports or evaluations about his mental state.
"None of these people know anything about the case. They are parroting what the defense has told them," Ashmore said.
Fallon's order gives Thomas' attorneys until July 5 to file their motion asking that the inmate's competency be reviewed before his execution can proceed. If Fallon decides Thomas' lawyers have presented sufficient evidence to go forward, experts will be appointed to examine him, and other evidence will be reviewed by the judge before he would make a decision.
"We're willing to do that. We're willing for that process to happen and let the judge make the decision. That's all we want," Ashmore said.
Levin called Thomas "one of the most mentally ill prisoners in Texas history," adding that "he is not competent to be executed, lacking a rational understanding of the state's reason for his execution."
Ashmore said he's reviewed records that would seem to indicate Thomas knew about his execution date and that he's aware that he's in prison because he killed his estranged wife and her kids.
Last year, the Supreme Court turned away Thomas' case after his lawyers argued he was convicted and sentenced to death by biased jurors who had expressed opposition to interracial marriage.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Texas has 199 inmates on death row, and three inmates have been granted clemency.