DALLAS MORNING NEWS EDITORIAL

Stripped of the modern trappings of the court system, the saga of condemned Texas murderer Andre Thomas resembles a medieval horror story featuring madness, a family’s homicidal slaughter, the defendant’s self-mutilation and a waiting executioner.

Knowing it’s real makes the story almost too grotesque to stomach.

Still, it was a service by the Texas Tribune and Texas Monthly to render it in stark detail, because it challenges this state’s collective conscience.

Thomas would have a standard death row cell today were it not for his mental instability. With his eyelids surgically shut over empty sockets, he waits in a prison psychiatric unit until a federal judge decides whether he can be put to death.

A reading of the case file is a journey into darkness.

Born into a chaotic family in Sherman, Thomas grew up with a mentally ill mother and siblings. He was experiencing auditory hallucinations and using alcohol by age 9 or 10. Regular drug abuse followed, with a series of arrests for petty crimes. Thomas was a father at 16 and married his girlfriend, Laura Boren, at 18, a union that lasted four months before the couple separated.

The voices in Thomas’ head kept growing in intensity, and he fixated on secret codes he saw on the dollar bill. He was tormented by visions that he was reliving the same events. At age 21, he harmed himself twice shortly before the murders. A neighbor took him to a medical center, where a doctor said he was “really mentally ill.” But Thomas slipped away without treatment.

Two days later, in March 2004, Thomas entered the home of his estranged wife with three knives. He killed Laura, and cut out part of a lung; killed Andre Jr., 4, and cut out his heart; then killed Laura’s daughter, Leyha, 13 months, and cut out her heart. He thought the three were possessed.

Thomas stabbed himself in the chest and lay down to die beside his dead wife, but when that didn’t happen he stuffed his victims’ organs in his pockets and walked home.

Later, in the Grayson County Jail, he gave rambling, delusional confessions. It was there he gouged out his right eye with his fingers, citing obedience to a biblical injunction.

After diagnoses of schizophrenia, Thomas was medically stabilized so he could be tried. A jury sorted through differing expert opinions on Thomas’ insanity and its origins and sent him to death row. It was there he pulled out his remaining eye and ate it.

This is the man that the state of Texas argues should be executed.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has deferred to the jury verdict, ruling that Thomas “is clearly ‘crazy,’ but he is also ‘sane’ under Texas law.”

It seems, rather, that the world has gone mad. That this human being is responsible for his psychotic actions is a preposterous notion. To strap down and terminate the life of such a tortured creature is the way a medieval society would deal with its embarrassments.

Texas must be better than that, and the courts should save us from insane ideas of what constitutes justice

TIME IS MONEY: GREAT TIPS I FOUND

Time Is Money
Dealing Successfully With a Divorce Attorney
Star Telegram, April 16, 2006

Dealing with divorce and divorce lawyers is not much different than taking a trip without first plotting out the route. If you go to a matrimonial lawyer without specific objectives or goals in mind, and thini he or she can fix it for you, you’ll be disappointed. Given a specific set of facts, lawyers are trained to apply the law and advise clients about ways to attain specific goals – or at least some of them.

Here are some basic guidelines:
Gather as much of your financial and other information as possible before you go to see your lawyer. This includes tax returns and schedules, financial statements, budget documents and the like from at least the last five years.
Make sure your fee arrangement is in writing, that you understand it before you sign, and that everyone understands how you will pay your bill. Generally, lawyers are not allowed to take a percentage of what is recovered for you in a divorce case, so expect to pay by the hour.
Since you won’t always need to talk to your lawyer wnen you have questions, meet and get to know the paralegal or secretary so you can give and get information billed at lower rates.
Write out your questions, then make an appointment with the lawyer and take notes about what you’re told.
If there are billing questions, talk to the billing clerk or the secretary who handles this aspect of the business. The lawyer should be the last resort.
Photocopies made at the lawyer’s office may cost you 25 or more cents per page, sometimes plus the time of the person making the copies. So for numerous copies, consider making your own at copy shops to save money.
If you don’t understand something, ask. And if you have a problem with the way your lawyer is handling your case, also ask. Don’t allow the issue to fester.
Your lawyer should keep you reasonably informed about the status of your case by sending you copies of what goes out of the office. Then you’ll be less likely to make emergency calls. Remember: Spur-of-the-moment calls just to find out what’s going on can get expensive.
Don’t second-guess your lawyer based on the advice of friends and family. But if you feel strongly about a point, seek a second opinion. Let your lawyer know you feel this way.
Remember that your lawyer works for you. After you have been fully informed and have reviewed your options, you and your lawyer should decide upon a course of action suitable to your situation.
Don’t be surprised if your case takes time to get resolved. Although everyone is in a hurry to complete his/her case, you will have no control over scheduling issues that can keep your case in limbo for a long time.
If your lawyer promises or guarantees you a result, get another lawyer
– Jan Collins, a writer and editor, and Jan Warner, matrimonial tax and elder

A PROSECUTORS STORY

By James A. Fry

When I prosecuted Charles Chatman for aggravated rape in 1981, I was certain I had the
right man. His case was one of the first important felony cases that I prosecuted as an
Assistant District Attorney in Dallas County. He was convicted in a court of law by a jury
of his peers. They, like myself, were convinced of his guilt. Nearly 27 years later, DNA
proved me — and the criminal justice system — wrong. Mr. Chatman was innocent.

He was freed from prison in January of this year after DNA testing proved him innocent.
Mr. Chatman spent nearly 27 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit — a stark
reminder that our justice system is not immune from error. This simple truth cannot be
questioned by any reasonable person.

I am proud of having been a prosecutor — it is honorable work. In fact, I still have a
portrait of former Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade in my law office. He was
a good man, and he gave me a chance to be a trial lawyer. However, my unknowing
involvement in prosecuting an innocent man has been a very troubling experience. It has
been cause not simply for personal reflection, but for reflection on the broken state of our
criminal justice system.

Mr. Chatman’s story is tragically not unique. The staggering number of exonerations
attest to just how easily the innocent can be convicted of crimes. Nationally, 225
individuals have been released from prison after DNA testing proved their innocence.
Seventeen of these individuals had been sentenced to death. Twenty DNA exonerations
were from Dallas County alone, the highest number of any local jurisdiction in the
country. The vast majority of those exonerated in Dallas County, would still be in prison
but for the fact Dallas retained the DNA evidence.

Like so many of these cases, Mr. Chatman was convicted on the testimony of one
eyewitness. Eyewitness misidentification is one of the greatest causes of wrongful
convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75 percent of DNA exonerations. The
fault in Mr. Chatman’s case, however, lies not with the victim, who honestly believed she
had identified the right man. Instead, it lies in part with the flawed eyewitness
identification procedures used by law enforcement agencies. Research has shown that
relatively small changes can greatly improve eyewitness accuracy, changes that urgently
need to be implemented.

Eyewitness identification is not the only cause contributing to wrongful convictions. Far
from it. Politicians, a category that includes elected officials, District Attorneys and
Judges, need to be less concerned about remaining in office and more concerned with
determining the truth. More effort needs to be given to see that court appointed attorneys
have adequate compensation and investigation fluids. Until these issues are addressed
and reforms are put in place, the number of innocent men and women sent to prison will
continue to rise.

Mr. Chatman’s case was not Capital crime, but the problems that led to his wrongful
conviction begs the question: How can we continue carrying out executions in Texas
when we know the system is so prone to error?

For years, Texas has led the nation in the number of executions. In five months of this
year alone, we have executed eighteen men. The next closest state, Virginia, has executed
four. Why don’t we now strive to lead the nation in a new direction: reforming a justice
system in urgent need of reform.

I think about Mr. Chatman every day—about the role I personally played in the
conviction of an innocent man, and about the prevalence of wrongful convictions more
broadly. After significant consideration, I have reached an unmistakable conclusion: the
system is broken, and until we are able to fix it, a moratorium on the death penalty is
urgently needed.

For years I supported capital punishment, but I have come to believe that our criminal
justice system is incapable of adequately distinguishing between the innocent and the
guilty. In such a system, it is reprehensible and immoral to gamble with life and death.

I am not a “bleeding heart.” I have been a Republican for over 30 years. I started my
career as a supporter of removing violent people from society for as long as possible and
I still believe that action to be appropriate. I also believe that the government should be
held to the strictest burden before it deprives a citizen of their freedom. It is not too much
to ask that we not convict and execute innocent people in our quest to enforce the law.
Let’s get this system fixed.

James A. Fry served as Assistant District Attorney in Dallas County from 1980 to /982.
He currently practices Family Law in Sherman, TX

Dallas Morning Interview

Prosecutor in one of Dallas County’s DNA exonerations no longer supports death penalty
6:02 AM Mon, Oct 13, 2008 | Permalink | Yahoo! Buzz
Jennifer Emily E-mail News tips

James A. Fry, who prosecuted Dallas County exoneree Charles Chatman, said he is “shaken to the core” because of the number of exonerations throughout the country and problems with eye witness testimony.

Once a staunch supporter of capital punishment, Mr. Fry said no longer supports it because of the problems in the criminal justice system highlighted by the exonerations.

“I don’t think the system can prove who is guilty and who is innocent,” he said in an interview at his office in Sherman where he practices family law.

Mr. Fry prosecuted Mr. Chatman in 1981 for the rape of the exonerated man’s former neighbor. Mr. Fry said that at the time, he believed the victim had correctly picked out Mr. Chatman from a photo lineup.

This week, The Dallas Morning News is running stories from its 8-month examination of the county’s 19 DNA exonerations that show that eyewitness testimony can be flawed.

Dallas County has had more DNA exonerations than any other local jurisdiction since 2001 when the state began allowing post-conviction DNA testing. Unlike most other counties, Dallas County has preserved decades of evidence.

One more tip on preparing for divorce

THIRD TIP ON HOW TO PREPARE FOR A TEXAS DIVORCE

I am not a marriage counselor but I do know that many people ought to see one. My staff and I are well aware that many of our clients do not have a chance to save their marriage. They were abandoned by their spouses and forced to seek help, or the other person filed for divorce against them.

However, if you see the situation coming, or if you are thinking about filing just because you are “unhappy” take some time to reflect. We really believe that marriage is an extremely important relationship and institution in our society.

If you have no choice then feel free to call us for help. Also seek out those people in your life that you can trust and who love you. Ask for their support because you are going to need it.

SECOND TIP ON HOW TO PREPARE FOR A TEXAS DIVORCE

Many years ago I worked for the Dallas County District Attorney in the trial division. Many times we were called upon to dismiss criminal cases by filing a written motion. We were taught to write the reasons for the dismissal motion in such a manner that we would not mind having it printed on the front page of the Dallas Morning News.

What does this have to do with preparing for divorce or child custody litigation? One word: Facebook. Another word: texting.

I have won many cases for clients because their wife or husband cannot resist the temptation to print every thought they have on Facebook for the whole world, including the Judge deciding their case, to see.

You might think your comments and pictures are private because you set them up to be. They are only as private as one of your 500 “friends” want them to be. Stop it. This is just common sense, but many ignore the advise.

If you do text someone or post, be sure you wouldn’t mind having your comments on the front page of the paper.

TIP ON HOW TO PREPARE FOR A TEXAS DIVORCE

Every week, I have many people who come to me in absolute panic mode. The story is common. A stranger appeared at work or at their door or maybe even caught them as they exited their car. The stranger has a hand full of papers that look all too official. Maybe they just came home and the house was empty, furniture gone, and a quick check with the bank reveals that the bank accounts are empty. It is divorce time.

When I meet with these good folks, I learn many times that they know little about the family finances. I ask each person who discusses divorce with me to have filled out a simple questionnaire inquiring about real estate values, mortgages owed, credit card balances and other matters. Does your spouse have retirement benefits? Many do not know.

This is my first tip: do your very best to know what is happening in your financial world. This is not always possible since many trust their spouse completely. Others just never think they will need to know. If you are in the dark, all is not lost. Your attorney can guide you in obtaining information after the case is filed, but it does make the case more difficult and expensive.

I am not suggesting that everyone start giving heck to your spouse. I am suggesting that if you have warning signs that the marriage is in trouble, start gathering income tax returns, pay stubs, retirement statements, and any other document you need to know what you owe and own.

GRANDPARENTS RIGHT TO SEEK ACCESS TO, NOT CUSTODY OF GRANDCHILDREN

It is very difficult for a grandparent to obtain court ordered possession or access, as opposed to custody, to a grandchild over a parents objection. First, it is assumed that parents are acting in the child’s best interest if they have refused access to grandparents. This may seem strange to those who value the benefits of the extended family, but it is the law. Secondly, before a suit for access can be litigated, the applicant grandparent must file an affidavit stating the belief, along with supporting facts, that denial of access to the child by the grandparent would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being. The Court will review the affidavit and may deny the suit by dismissing it at that time. It is very difficult, I would say impossible, to gain access to a grandchild on this basis alone. Texas Family Code 153.432. We will discuss other, much more effective, way to gain custody of grandchildren to protect their safety.

GRANDPARENT RIGHTS TO SEEK CUSTODY OF GRANDCHILDREN

The general rule in Texas and elsewhere, is that grandparents do not have a legal right to court ordered possession of grandchildren. This rule recognizes the fact that parents have exclusive rights to make all decisions regarding their children, including medical, religious and educational decisions, and to have possession of their children without the interference of third parties or the State. In most cases this is sound policy and makes perfect sense.

However, our law recognizes that many family situations are unstable and that many parents, unfortunately, participate in behavior that presents a direct threat to their children. When certain facts are present third parties are allowed to seek to protect children with which they have a close connection also known as standing to bring a lawsuit. Only in certain limited and specific situations will a parents constitutionally protected right to raise their children be challenged.

JAMES FRY: HOW TO CHOOSE AN ATTORNEY FOR YOUR FAMILY LAW CASE

Choosing the right attorney to represent you in a Family Law matter is the most important decision you will make. Here are my thoughts.

Talk to friends, family and others to obtain their opinion. However, this method has it’s limitations. The attorney they recommend may just be a friend or someone they have heard about in passing. Your friends probably don’t know anymore about who to choose than you do.

Get your list of attorney names from someone who really knows the attorney. Attorneys work with mental health professionals, accountants, real estate appraisers, court personnel, marriage counselors and other attorneys. Go to these people for a recommendation.

Once you get names, log on to the county judicial records and run the names of attorneys you are considering. See who is truly in the courts on a regular basis and not just dabbling in the area of Family Law.

Check to see if the attorney is Board Certified in Family Law. There are many fine Family Law attorneys who are not certified, but if you are in doubt, the certification shows that the attorney has been screened by other attorneys and Judges and has proven his experience and knowledge of Family Law.

Meet with the attorney. Understand the fee arrangement he is proposing. Leave immediately if the attorney promises a particular result in your case. No lawyer can promise the outcome of a case and you should not trust any attorney who does so.

I am proud to be Board Certified in the area of Family Law. I am also rated by Martindale Hubble, a national attorney rating service. I hold the AV rating which is the preeminent rating one can hold.

Call 903-892-6602 if you have questions.