Supreme Court rejects death penalty challenge against racially biased jurors

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court Tuesday rejected the appeal of a black death row inmate for claims he did not receive a fair trial because several jurors had expressed their opposition to race relations.

The Conservative majority court’s decision not to hear the case, due to the dissent of the court’s three liberal justices, leaves Andre Thomas’s conviction and death sentence in place.

“No jury deciding whether or not to recommend a death sentence should be tainted with potential racial bias that could infect its deliberation or decision, especially when the case involved an interracial crime,” liberal Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote. She was joined by fellow liberals Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority.

In 2004, Thomas murdered his ex-wife, Laura Boren, who was white; their 4-year-old son Andre Boren; and her 13-month-old stepdaughter, Leyha Hughes, in Sherman, Texas. He stabbed all three to death and attempted to remove their hearts, later saying he hoped to “free them from harm”, according to court documents. He also attempted to commit suicide.

Andre Thomas, death row inmate, from Texoma, Texas. Texas Department of Criminal Justice / via AP file

Thomas, now 39, later turned himself in and confessed. While awaiting trial for the murder of Leyha Hughes, in which he claimed he was not guilty by reason of insanity, Thomas gouged out one of his eyeballs after reading a passage from the Bible, according to the documents. Years later, he took out his other eye and ate it.

Prosecutors agreed that Thomas was in a psychotic state when he committed the murders, but countered that it was caused by Thomas’ actions in ingesting cough medicine which can cause irrational behavior.

At the 2005 trial for the murder of Leyha Hughes, the all-white jury found Thomas guilty and sentenced him to death.

In challenging his conviction, Thomas’ lawyers argued that the jury was tainted because three members during the selection process had expressed opposition to people of different races marrying or having children, which was relevant to the facts of the case due to Thomas’s marriage to Boren.

A juror said he objected to interracial relations because it was “against the will of God”, according to court documents. Another said “we should stay in our bloodline” when asked the same question. The third juror said interracial relationships are harmful to children because ‘they don’t have a specific race to belong to’.

During the trial, the prosecutor also asked the jury: “Are you going to risk him asking your daughter or your granddaughter out? Lawyers for Thomas said the statement appealed to jury bias.

Thomas claims that his right to a fair trial under the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment was violated for two reasons: that he was not tried by an impartial jury and that his attorney was ineffective for failing to opposed to jury selection.

State attorneys argue in part that the three jurors said they would follow the law as instructed and could return an unbiased verdict.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *