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During Terence’s trial, the prosecution painted Terence, only 20 years-old at the time of his crime, 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.


Because his court-appointed lawyer had not done any investigation—or barely met with Terence during the years he spent waiting for his trial—no meaningful evidence was put in front of the jurors to help them understand what had really happened. Nor did his jury learn how Terence had never intended to kill anyone, or how he was wracked with remorse, or how he had been the one to help the police find the gun used in the crime. Nothing was put on at trial about him as a person or why his life should be spared. And because his lawyer did not even discuss his offer to plead guilty with prosecutors that would have meant sparing the families a trial and punishing Terence harshly with life in prison, those prosecutors insisted on seeking a death sentence.


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 wrote an essay reflecting on the Supreme Court’s decision to intervene in his case, published by the Harvard Law Review. “Reflection on Andrus v. Texas” Reflection by Terence Andrus




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.


Read the full essay


But the power to grant Terence a new trial was left to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Texas court with clear instructions to the Texas court to reconsider its analysis. But instead of following the Higher Court’s directives, the Texas court disdainfully brushed aside the U.S. Supreme Court’s findings and reasoning:


Read the CCA's decision


That shocking development led to Terence’s case going back up to the U.S. Supreme Court a second time—asking that the High Court intervene and make sure that the rule of law was respected:


Read the cert petition


But after many months, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take up Terence’s case again. It refused to defend its own previous decision in the face of the brazen disrespect shown in the Texas court’s decision. That development, equally shocking, led three Justices to sign a lengthy dissent:


Read Sotomayor’s dissent from denial of cert


But that emotional rollercoaster was too much for Terence. Soon after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to defend its own precedent in the very same case, Terence attempted suicide. That attempt failed. He was sent briefly to the “Wayne Scott” mental health unit and placed in a padded cell. But before he could recover, he was sent back to Polunsky; then he was sent back again to Wayne Scott and then back to Polunsky in an abusive cycle that only ended when he succeeded at hanging himself on January 21, 2023 despite ample red flags that he was suffering and needed help.

Terence Andrus Deserved Better Than What the Supreme Court Gave Him

Yvette Borja, January 2023


Those of us who knew him will always remember him as the simultaneously smiley and vigilant boy, wanting to keep his loved ones safe, longing to make a positive mark on the world despite his incarceration, hoping the concept of justice might actually mean something for people like him who had never really been given a first chance, let alone a second one.

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