In a 6-3 opinion, the justices said
Terence Andrus had ineffective assistance from his lawyer and that it
was unclear if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals properly considered
whether that could have affected his sentence.
The U.S. Supreme Court has again ruled against Texas’ top criminal
court in a death penalty case, the latest in the high court’s repeated dismissals of Texas decisions against death row inmates.
In a 19-page opinion on a 6-3 ruling Monday, the justices sent Terence Andrus’ case back to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for further review. They
said the court must again examine whether the “abundant” amount of
mitigating evidence not presented at Andrus’ trial should warrant a new
punishment trial to decide if he should get lethal injection or life in
prison without parole. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence
Andrus was sentenced to death in 2012 for two 2008 shooting
deaths in Fort Bend County during an unsuccessful carjacking attempt.
Last year, the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the trial court’s
recommendation on appeal that Andrus get a new punishment trial because
his lawyer failed to raise potentially sentence-changing evidence.
The Supreme Court ruling focused on the evidence that could have been
used to sway the jury from a death sentence. This includes his mother’s
drug addiction and prostitution, his role as caretaker for his siblings when his mother would disappear, his own drug use, multiple suicide attempts and a diagnosis of psychosis.
“During Andrus’ capital trial, however, nearly none of this
mitigating evidence reached the jury,” the justices wrote. “That is
because Andrus’ defense counsel not only neglected to present it; he
failed even to look for it.”
The justices ruled that the work by Andrus’ lawyer, former Fort Bend
County prosecutor James “Sid” Crowley, fell below what is legally
reasonable representation. They sent Andrus’ case back
to the Court of Criminal Appeals to make a determination on whether,
with better legal representation, there is a “reasonable probability”
that Andrus’ jury would have instead delivered a life sentence. Both
factors must be met for a new trial to be granted based on a constitutional violation of effective assistance of counsel.