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Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of Texas death row inmate

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her dissent that the case “cries out for intervention,” writing that the inmate's defense attorney had failed to call witnesses about his difficult childhood and mental health struggles.
An execution chamber in Huntsville, Texas on May 27, 2008.
An execution chamber in Huntsville, Texas on May 27, 2008.Pat Sullivan / AP file

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the appeal of a man sentenced to death in Texas even though it earlier found that his lawyer ignored “an apparent tidal wave” of evidence that could have spared him the death penalty.

In 2008, 20-year-old Terence Andrus unsuccessfully tried to carjack a vehicle in a grocery store parking lot while under the influence of marijuana laced with PCP, also known as angel dust. He shot and killed the driver and a person in another car that was approaching.  

After he was convicted and sentenced to death, new lawyers became involved in the case and filed an appeal, saying that his trial lawyers did almost nothing to investigate Andrus’ past or put on an effective defense. When the case first reached the Supreme Court, it said two years ago that the trial counsel conducted “almost no mitigation investigation, overlooking vast tranches of mitigating evidence.” It sent the case back to Texas for further review.

A state appeals court ruled against Andrus, finding he failed to show that having a competent lawyer during the trial phase would have changed the outcome of the case. On Monday, without comment, the Supreme Court declined to take his case.  

The court’s three more liberal justices dissented and said the Texas appeals court ignored the Supreme Court’s earlier concerns about the competency of the original lawyers.

Writing for herself, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the case “cries out for intervention” because the trial lawyer for Andrus “hardly put up a fight” and failed to call witnesses to testify about “the extreme neglect, privations, and trauma of Andrus’ youth or his mental health struggles as an adult.”

In particular, the lawyer failed to put on evidence that Andrus was raised by a mother who engaged in prostitution, sold drugs, and beat him. In juvenile detention, he was forced to take large amounts of psychotropic drugs and was relegated to long stints in solitary confinement, she said.

During the sentencing phase, the jury heard next to nothing that would humanize him or allow the jury to accurately gauge his moral culpability, the dissent said.