With three justices dissenting, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case of Texas death-row prisoner Andre Thomas, who was sentenced to death by jurors who admitted to racial bias. In a case involving an interracial murder and marriage, jurors who opposed interracial relationships were allowed to serve without objection by defense counsel. These beliefs were referenced by the prosecution during closing argument at the sentencing phase, where jurors were tasked to weigh Thomas’ long history of severe mental illness in deciding whether to sentence him to death.

Thomas, who is Black, was convicted of killing his estranged wife, who was white, along with their biracial child and his wife’s child from another relationship. The jury that convicted Thomas was all white, and three jurors – one quarter of the jury – said they disapproved of people of different races marrying or having children together. The prosecutor played on the jury’s biases during the penalty phase, asking the jury, “Are you going to take the risk about him asking your daughter out or your granddaughter out?”

Dissenting from the Court’s denial of review, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, emphasized the importance of an unbiased jury. “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 wrote. She wrote that courts must “safeguard the fairness of criminal trials by ensuring that jurors do not harbor, or at the very least could put aside, racially biased sentiments.”

Maurie Levin, Thomas’ attorney, said in response to the Court’s denial, “Today’s cert denial in Mr. Thomas’s case abdicates the Court’s role and responsibility to ‘confront racial animus in the justice system’ Instead, the Court failed to even attempt to ensure ‘the promise of equal treatment under the law that is so central to a functioning democracy.’” She described Thomas’ severe mental illness and said, “No one who hears the story of Mr. Thomas’ life believes he is mentally competent. Guiding a blind, delusional man onto Texas’ gurney would be an indelible image that would cast a permanent shadow over Texas’ reputation. Texas can keep the public safe by keeping Mr. Thomas in prison for life.”

Because the case involved an interracial marriage, jurors were asked about their views on people of different races marrying and/or having children. Three of the people who served on Thomas’ jury said they opposed interracial marriage. One wrote, “I don’t believe God intended for this.” Another wrote, “I think it is harmful for the children involved because they do not have a specific race to belong to,” and a third said, “I think we should stay with our Blood Line.” Thomas’ defense counsel did not attempt to remove any of the jurors for cause and did not use the available peremptory strikes to remove them from the jury.

Thomas had a long history of mental illness and had attempted suicide several times. Two days before the murders, he attempted suicide and was taken to a hospital, where a social worker “noted that he was experiencing delusions and religious preoccupations.” A doctor sought an emergency order to confine Thomas to a mental health facility, but left him unattended, and Thomas left the hospital. The delusions he was experiencing led him to believe that his wife and the children were demonic and that killing them was a religious mission. Five days after the murders, he gouged out his right eye because he believed that he was commanded to do so by the bible. His mental state continued to deteriorate after he was sentenced to death, and years later he gouged out his left eye and ate it. His attorney described him as “one of the most mentally ill people in the history of Texas’ death row.” Levin wrote, “To pursue his execution would be nothing but an ugly spectacle and would not make Texans safer.”


Kalyn Womack, Supreme Court Rejects Racist Jury Claim by Death Row Inmate Who Gouged His Eyes Out, The Root, October 12, 2022; Michelle Pitcher, DESPITE RACIST JURORS, ANDRE THOMAS REMAINS ON TEXASDEATH ROW, Texas Observer, October 12, 2022; Alejandro Serrano, U.S. Supreme Court rejects request to review Texas death row inmate Andre Thomas’ case, The Texas Tribune, October 11, 2022; Lawrence Hurley, Supreme Court rejects Black death row inmate’s racial bias appeal, NBC News, October 112022.

Read attor­ney Maurie Levin’s state­ment on the denial of cer­tio­rari. Read the peti­tion for a writ of cer­tio­rari in Thomas v. Lumpkin. Read Justice Sotomayor’s dis­sent.