death penalty news—-TEXAS

Oct. 8


2 condemned killers in Texas lose appeals

A North Texas auto mechanic whose original death sentence for the 1987
murders of a man and a 4-month-old child was overturned on appeal had his
2nd death sentence upheld Wednesday by the Texas Court of Criminal

In 1 of 2 death row cases rejected by the state's highest criminal appeals
court, lawyers for inmate James Eugene Bigby contended there were 15
errors at his 2nd punishment trial in Tarrant County where jurors in
September 2006 deliberated about 4 hours before handing down another death

In a 2nd case, the Austin-based appeals court upheld the conviction and
death sentence of a Grayson County man accused of killing his wife, their
son and her daughter. Andre Thomas, now 25, confessed to fatally stabbing
all three in their chests in March 2004 and ripping out their hearts.

Neither Thomas nor Bigby has an execution date.

Bigby, now 43, had been convicted and condemned in 1991 for shooting Mike
Trekell, who was cooking steaks for himself and Bigby, and drowning
Trekell's 4-month-old son, Jayson, in a bathroom sink on Christmas Eve. He
confessed to the slayings but pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.

The 2 were among four people killed during a seven-hour spree by Bigby in
Fort Worth and Arlington.

The 1st jury convicted Bigby of capital murder just hours after he grabbed
a loaded gun from a drawer in state District Judge Don Leonard's bench,
charged into Leonard's chambers and pointed the gun at him. The judge, a
prosecutor and a bailiff eventually wrestled the gun away from Bigby.

Defense witnesses had testified that Bigby was a paranoid schizophrenic,
but the jury rejected Bigby's insanity defense. The former Kennedale auto
mechanic appealed.

In 2005, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Bigby's conviction
but overturned his sentence, saying it violated a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court
ruling that juries should consider mitigating factors, such as mental
illness, when deciding whether a defendant should die. The court said
paranoid schizophrenia is a severe mental illness, and that Bigby had
proven he had it at the time of the slayings.

Bigby's lawyers didn't dispute his actions but noted he'd been treated
three times for mental disorders before the killings. They argued he
shouldn't be executed because his paranoid schizophrenia and frustrations
about a workers' compensation claim led to the killing spree. Prosecutors
said drug use and his aggressive personality led to the killings.

In the latest appeal, Bigby challenged selection of some of the jurors,
argued the indictment and jury instructions were faulty, again questioned
the legality of mitigating evidence issues and the legality of the drugs
used for lethal injection.

In Thomas' case, the maintenance man and laborer contended in his appeal
that his trial court judge erroneously allowed into evidence video and
audio tapes of his statements to police where he told about killing his
estranged wife, Laura Christine Boren, their 4-year-old son, Andre Lee,
and the woman's 13-month-old daughter, Leyha Marie Hughes.

He was convicted specifically of the infant's death.

Thomas, from Texoma, walked into the Sherman Police Department and told a
dispatcher he had just murdered the three and had stabbed himself in the
chest. He was taken to a hospital and agreed to speak with officers there.
He also spoke later with detectives at the police department.

A judge said he understood rights and warnings that were explained to him.

Defense lawyers argued he suffered from mental illness and alcohol and
drug abuse.

The appeals court, in upholding the conviction, ruled Thomas knowingly and
intelligently waived his rights. The court also rejected arguments
contesting jury selection and challenging introduction of crime scene
photos and autopsy results of the victims other than the infant.

Other arguments turned down by the appeals court involved prosecution
testimony about Thomas' sanity, that the court should have ruled on his
competency before the trial, that his defense lawyers were incompetent and
that the jury engaged in misconduct because following their verdicts they
told the judge and lawyers they'd wanted to hear true remorse from Thomas.

In his statement to police, Thomas told how he put his victims' hearts in
his pocket and left their apartment, took them home, put them in a plastic
bag and threw them in the trash.

(source: Associated Press)