Case Update: After the Supreme Court found that Terence’s trial counsel had performed deficiently during his 2012 trial, the case was sent back to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to complete the analysis and decide whether his Sixth Amendment constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel had been violated. On May 19, 2021, the CCA decided, in a narrow 5-4 decision, that he should be denied relief, claiming that the same mitigating evidence that the Supreme Court had described as “compelling” was not “particularly compelling.” The CCA’s decision also expressly rejected numerous other determinations that the U.S. Supreme Court had made. The news that the Texas court had denied Terence relief was reported, noting that his case will have to go back to the Supreme Court to try to get a new punishment-phase trial. That has now happened—and numerous groups have joined in to support Terence and his cause. You can find all of the latest court filings here.
Terence Andrus is currently incarcerated for the shooting deaths of two individuals, Avelino Diaz and Kim Phuong Bui, during an attempted car-jacking gone bad. During his trial, the prosecution painted Terence, only 20 years-old at the time of his crimes, as an irredeemable “sociopath.” A false picture was painted of his time in the juvenile justice system and he was described as a remorseless “predator” as his own lawyer, inebriated through most of trial, sat idly by. His court-appointed counsel put up little resistance at trial and presented virtually no mitigating evidence to the jury during sentencing. In post-conviction proceedings, defense counsel admitted that he did not investigate anything about Terence’s life, including the extreme neglect and abuse he had suffered as a child or the mistreatment he had experienced at the hands of the state’s now-defunct juvenile justice agency known as the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).
On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the representation that Terence had received at trial was constitutionally deficient. In its opinion detailing the “simply vast” mitigating evidence that could and should have been put on at trial, the Supreme Court returned the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to decide if “at least one juror would have struck a different balance’ regarding [defendant’s] ‘moral culpability’” if they had heard evidence of Terence’s past sufferings of abuse from family and the state juvenile justice system. Terence now awaits the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to decide if a new sentencing hearing will be awarded.
The process of appealing my case to the Supreme Court was, for me, part of a “phylogenic” journey. (I like learning new, fancy words.) The evolution is mostly my own. I, Terence Tremaine Andrus, am still here — living, breathing, becoming — in spite of . . . But I am also seeing that American Justice is evolving too.
After yet another denial in state court, the drafting of a cert petition to America’s highest court was not something I felt optimistic about. I was so disheartened about my chances of getting “due process of law.” Even so, as I consulted with my attorney, I maintained a tinge of hope. I had an attorney who saw me, my life’s story, and the legal ramifications of how I had been treated in the trial court as something well worth fighting for. My attorney was really my appendage, who felt for me and how I had been failed by the system. This was a new phenomenon for me.
On remand, his case has drawn support from several entities filing “amicus” or “friend of the court” briefs.
The UDC David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) Youth Justice Clinic, in partnership with the Dallas law firm Fears Nachawati, has urged the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to set aside the death sentence of Terence Andrus. The brief was filed on behalf of leading youth justice groups First Focus on Children, National Juvenile Justice Network, Just Detention International and Texas juvenile justice expert Michele Deitch. The Clinic and Firm argue that the sentencing jury would not have sent Terence to death row had they heard the full story.
The multi-national law firm Littler Mendelson has also filed an amicus brief supporting Terence on behalf of a Houston non-profit, Eight Million Stories. This non-profit community organization is dedicated to helping vulnerable teenagers by providing access to the kind of educational opportunities, skills training, employment networking, and authentic relationships that Terence did not have. The brief emphasizes the importance of ensuring that criminal defendants who face the ultimate punishment—many of whom are the product of the Texas juvenile-justice system—are able to present their stories to the juries that will decide their fates by offering mitigating evidence related to their backgrounds—the kind of mitigating evidence that was in Terence’s life history if his trial counsel had only looked for it.
Terence’s cause is also supported by a group of criminal law professors, represented by the appellate law firm Wittliff Cutter, PLLC. Their amicus brief explains why Terence should be granted relief in the form of a new sentencing trial because, as law professors, they belief he has more than satisfied the relevant “prejudice” standard for “ineffective assistance of counsel” claims raised in capital claims. These professors are committed to the correct application of the standard first announced in Strickland v. Washington, not only critical to ensure due process under the law for all criminal defendants, but also necessary to encourage the public’s trust in the State’s criminal system—particularly in capital cases where it imposes the ultimate penalty.
You can read some of the legal briefs filed directly on Terence’s behalf here:
Petition to the Supreme Court
Reply to the State in the Supreme Court
Brief on Remand to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
Reply to the State in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
You can read some of the legal briefs filed by others in support of Terence’s cause here:
Amicus Brief by Former Prosecutors
Amicus Brief by Eight Million Stories
Amicus Brief by Texas Law Professors
Amicus Brief by Juvenile Justice Reformers