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Lawyers for man who ate own eyeball argue he’s too mentally ill for execution

Lawyers representing a Texas death row inmate who killed his estranged wife and her two children, including her 13-month-old daughter, in 2004 are arguing this week that their mentally ill client should be allowed to continue appealing his death sentence in the infant’s slaying. 

Their oral arguments on behalf of Andre Thomas, 35, were held Tuesday before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Thomas’ attorneys have for years argued that Thomas is too mentally ill to be put to death. 

Those claims are bolstered by the fact that Andre Thomas plucked out one of his eyes five days after his March 2004 arrest in the slayings, KSAT in San Antonio reported

Five years later, while housed on Texas’ death row, Thomas removed his second eye and ate it, according to prison officials. Texas Department of Corrections information shows that he is currently housed at the Beauford H. Jester IV psychiatric unit in Fort Bend County. 

The Houston Chronicle reported that Thomas suffers from schizophrenia, characterized by psychotic delusions and “hyper-religious preoccupations.” His lawyers have argued he was “actively psychotic” when he committed the crimes for which he was convicted. 

Thomas was found guilty of the March 27, 2004, slayings of Laura Christine Boren, 20, the couple’s son, Andre Lee Boren, 4, and Boren’s infant daughter, Leyha Marie Hughes. According to KSAT, the three victims were stabbed to death and their hearts ripped from their chests. 

In Boren’s case, Thomas missed her heart and removed a portion of her lung instead, according to a 2013 profile of Thomas in Texas Monthly. Thomas, then 21 years old, stabbed himself in the chest multiple times, laid on the floor next to his wife’s body and waited to die, the magazine said. 

When he didn’t, he pocketed the organs he had cut out and walked five miles to his home. He went to the Sherman Police Department a few hours later and confessed, Texas Monthly reported. 

“I thought it was what God wanted me to do,” Thomas told investigators, according to the magazine

After he plucked out his eye while awaiting trial in the Grayson County Jail, Thomas repeatedly asked hospital personnel to let him see his wife and beg her forgiveness, which he said he had already obtained from the children. 

“I love her, and I need her to forgive me,” he told them of Boren, Texas Monthly said

Court documents filed before Tuesday’s oral arguments said Thomas’ mental illness went undiagnosed and untreated “until after the delusions it caused led him to commit the crime here,” KSAT reported. One of his attorneys, Catherine M.A. Carroll, also argued that her client’s trial lawyers failed to challenge a judge’s ruling that found him competent to stand trial. 

Carroll also claimed Thomas’ trial lawyers did not request a competency hearing and that jurors were not given enough information on the defendant’s long history of mental illness, the news station said

Texas Monthly reported Thomas began telling classmates about the voices in his head when he was as young as 10 years old. By the age of 13, Thomas had made his second suicide attempt, the magazine reported. 

>> Read more trending news

Carroll also alleged that the jury in the case was racially biased against Thomas, who is black. Boren, his estranged wife, was white. 

The Chronicle reported that the jury that convicted Thomas was all white. Four of the jurors were allowed to serve, despite expressing opposition to interracial marriage.

One juror said it was not “what God intended,” and another said white people “should stay with (their) bloodline,” the newspaper reported

Prosecutors are contesting the appeal, according to KSAT. They have argued that, while mentally disabled people are barred from being executed, the courts have not extended that same prohibition to the mentally ill. 

“The Fifth Circuit has consistently refused to find a connection between the intellectually disabled and the mentally ill, repeatedly rejecting arguments like the one Thomas makes now,” Assistant Texas Attorney General Fredericka Sargent wrote, according to the news station

A federal judge in 2016 rejected Thomas’ appeal, prompting this week’s oral arguments seeking the ability to keep the appeal going. 

Romaine lettuce likely safe to eat again, per CDC report

The latest update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the deadly multistate E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region brought a bit of positive news.

>> Read more trending news 

While the CDC reported 23 more cases of illness from 13 states since the agency's May 9 update, the affected produce should no longer be available for sale.

The latest news release from the CDC posted on Wednesday said that the "last shipments of romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region were harvested on April 16, 2018 and the harvest season is over. It is unlikely that any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is still available in stores or restaurants due to its 21-day shelf life."

The CDC reports that, as of May 15, 172 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 32 states. 

Popular African-American hair products may contain toxic chemicals, research says 

Research indicates there may be a link between chemicals found in popular hair products used by black women and girls and hormone and asthma-related illnesses.

A study, conducted by researchers at Silent Springs Institute in Newton, Massachusetts, and Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio, suggests the main ingredients in things as common as shampoo and conditioner may contain harmful chemicals linked to cancer and preterm birth. The study was made available online in April by the Environmental Research journal.

Toxic ingredients in 18 hair products more commonly used by black women were linked to hormone and asthma-related illnesses, according to the study.

Products like leave-in conditioner, hot oil treatments, root simulators and relaxers, commonly used by black girls and women, may also contain harmful chemicals.

>> Read more trending news 

“Historically speaking, we come from a culture where we were using juices and berries and then we don’t have those things anymore and our culture got very used to using wheelbarrow grease and using petroleum to style our hair, especially during enslavement times,” Daria Jones, a Boston hair stylist, told Boston 25 News

“We need to step away from the stigma of actually selecting a product that’s black or ethnic and we need to go for products for our hair texture or hair porosity and really focus on those things,” Jones said.

Jones works at one of Boston’s only salons that use completely natural sulfate and paraben-free products.

Researchers said black hair care products are largely untested and unregulated, and 84 percent of the harmful chemicals detected in the study weren’t on the label.

Parabens and the fragrance diethyl phthalate, or DEP, that can be found in these popular products are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, fibroids, puberty and preterm birth.

The staff at Parisian Style Beauty Supply and Salon in Malden, Massachusetts, said the biggest mistake people make is that they don’t read the labels on beauty products.

According to the salon’s staff, one of the first three items listed on the back of hair products should be water, and customers should always opt for products that are paraban and sulfate-free.

“What goes in your hair goes in your body as well because your scalp has pores,” Ashley Sousa, and employee at Parisian Style Beauty Supply and Salon, said.

With findings such as these, researchers are calling for more regulations within the beauty industry. 

5-year-old girl loses foot in lawn mower accident

An Indiana couple is offering words of caution to parents everywhere after their 5-year-old daughter lost her foot last week in a lawn mower accident.

Italia McAllister was playing with her 3-year-old brother Tuesday evening outside her grandparents’ Elkhart home when she got too close as a family member mowed the lawn. The girl’s father, Cody McAllister, told the Indy Star that the children began chasing the riding lawn mower as the driver rode into a corner of the yard.

Not realizing they were behind him, he put the mower in reverse, McAllister told the newspaper. Trash barrels on the back of the machine knocked Italia over, and her left foot got caught underneath the mower.

“We were sitting on the deck, and I heard, you know, just like a rock getting caught in a lawnmower,” McAllister told the Star. “I mean, that’s the sound I heard, and there’s no rocks in that area.

“So I just happened to look, and she was laying on the ground and I knew it was bad.”

McAllister ran to his daughter and scooped her up, taking her inside the house, the Star reported. Though a family member called 911, they didn’t wait for help. 

McAllister’s father, who is an emergency medical technician, stopped the bleeding and splinted Italia’s mangled foot. 

“He saved her life,” McAllister said of his father. 

The McAllisters drove Italia to the nearest hospital, from which she was flown to Indianapolis’ Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. 

Her mother, Robyn McAllister, wrote on Facebook that day that her daughter’s life was irrevocably changed but that she was already on the road to recovery. 

“Italia, we love you so much and Mommy and Daddy (are) by your side as much as we can be,” Robyn McAllister wrote. “She lost her whole foot! Surgery will be taking place soon, and we’ll update everyone when we can!”

Cody McAllister posted videos of Italia in her hospital bed on Thursday, watching videos on a computer tablet that explain what she will undergo in future surgeries. A nurse sits with her, helping to explain and asking the little girl if she has questions. 

The family spent Mother’s Day at Italia’s side as she began the long road to recovery. The little girl, who is known for her love of cheerleading, dancing and gymnastics, was already showing signs of her spirit returning, her mother said. 

“I can already start to see her spunky side coming back,” Robyn McAllister told WSBT in Mishawaka on Sunday. “Today, she just started doing her little songs that she makes up.”

Despite being in the hospital, Italia has been keeping up with her schoolwork and preparing for her kindergarten graduation, the news station reported. Her parents are working with her school, Pinewood Elementary School, to set up a webcam so she can participate with her classmates. 

Italia is also attempting to walk on her own using a walker. The family posted video of the determined little girl Monday on social media. 

Aside from dealing with Italia’s injury, the family has also had to deal with criticism from people who don’t understand how the injury could happen with so many adults around. 

“Nobody ever thinks to look behind them on a lawn mower,” Cody McAllister told the Star. “That’s why I’m trying to raise awareness of it and get people to realize it can happen to anybody.”

Lawn mower accidents involving children are more prevalent than most people might think. 

The e-Nable Community, which describes itself as a group of volunteers around the world who use their 3D printers to create prosthetics for those in need, reported that lawn mower accidents are the leading cause of childhood amputations in the U.S. 

Each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, e-Nable reported. More than 600 of those result in amputations. 

Jilliam Warden, a prosthetic-orthotic clinician at Cook Children’s Heath Care System in Fort Worth, wrote last year that the issue affects a relatively small portion of the pediatric population but is a serious one nonetheless. 

“The saddest cases (of amputations) are those that are completely preventable, and these traumatic lawn-mowing accidents are exactly that,” Warden wrote. “If your child is lucky enough to avoid an amputation after a run in with a lawn mower, they are still going through a very scary and traumatic injury. And let’s not get started on what the driver of the lawn mower will have to contend with for the rest of his or her life.” 

>> Read more trending news

Italia’s parents have declined to name the relative who ran the little girl over, citing the fact that he is wracked with guilt and that they don’t want to make his grief worse, the Star reported

Science Daily reported last year that the most common type of childhood lawn mower injuries, about 39 percent, involve cuts. Next, at 15 percent, are burns. 

Hands and fingers are the most often injured, usually when a child touches a hot surface on the machine, the study reported. Legs, feet and toes are next on the list. 

Children younger than 5 years old are the most likely to be injured by touching a hot surface or from a back-over injury, Science Daily reported

Researchers are urging more safety measures built into lawnmowers, including shields that would keep hands and feet from slipping under the mower, as well as a mechanism that would prevent the machine from being able to automatically mow in reverse. An override switch could be located behind the driver’s seat, which would require the driver to look behind him before reversing with the blades whirling. 

Some of the suggested safety measures are addressed in the industry, but not all, Science Daily reported

The science publication offered some safety tips to help prevent accidents:

  • Never allow children near a lawn mower, even when it is not in use. They should also never be passengers on a riding mower in use.
  • Children younger than 6 should remain indoors while an adult or teen is mowing a lawn. 
  • Check the lawn for rocks, sticks and any other debris in the grass before mowing. Objects thrown by a mower can cause serious injuries.
  • Use protective eyewear and sturdy shoes while mowing. Never go barefoot. 
  • Teach teenagers well before allowing them to mow the lawn, and supervise their work. Children should be 12 or older to use a push mower and at least 16 years old to use a riding mower. 

Italia will require a prosthetic leg to be able to walk, run and play again, the Star reported. She has already begun physical therapy and will undergo additional surgeries to get her limb ready for the device. 

Her aunt has started a GoFundMe page, “Italia’s Road to Recovery,” to help fund everything the little girl will need. As of Monday afternoon, the page had raised more than $12,000 of its $30,000 goal.

The hospital is accepting cards and gifts on the patient’s behalf, as well. They can be sent to Italia McAllister, Burn Unit 5 East-Room #5221, Riley Children's Hospital, 705 Riley Hospital Drive, Indianapolis, IN 46202.

Cody McAllister said that despite everything she’s been through, his daughter’s signature sense of humor remains intact. Visitors to her hospital room are left laughing.

“She can just look at you, crossing her eyes and sticking out her tongue,” McAllister told the Star. “She’ll make up her own jokes and they don’t even make sense, but they’re still funny.”

McAllister said he is amazed by his daughter’s resilience.

“Honestly, she’s my hero,” he said. “I would never be able to do what she’s doing right now.”

Study gets to the root of why your hair turns gray

Spotting a few gray strands on your head? If you’re wondering how they got there, scientists may have an answer, according to a new report. 

>> Read more trending news

Researchers from the University of Alabama in Birmingham recently conducted a study to determine why hair loses its pigment. 

To find out, researchers examined mice. They specifically monitored how the immune system’s response to attacks affects the MITF gene, a protein that helps melanocytes function properly. Melanocytes are the cells responsible for melanin, which gives our eyes, skin and hair their color. 

After analyzing their observations, they found that the MITF gene likely also controls the release of interferons, a protein that fights off viral infections. When there isn’t enough MITF, the animals in the experiment produced an excess of interferons, forcing the immune system to attack the melanocytes and causing the growth of non-pigmented or gray hairs.

The scientists do not know if their observations will transfer to humans. However, they believe their research may explain why some individuals go gray earlier in life. 

“Perhaps, in an individual who is healthy yet predisposed for gray hair, getting an everyday viral infection is just enough to cause the decline of their melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells leading to premature gray hair,” co-author Melissa Harris said in a statement.

While she noted an infection doesn’t guarantee gray hair, “this study highlights just one mechanism that helps us better understand biological contributions to the visible signs of aging.”

Want to learn more about the findings? The results were published in PLOS Biology.

Study says most Americans feel lonely, young adults are the loneliest

study on loneliness from U.S. health insurer Cigna says that most Americans feel left out or alone at least some of the time.

According to a May 1 news release, the national survey was conducted on 20,096 U.S. adults over age 18. The findings show that those who report being the loneliest are adults ages 18-22.

>> Read more trending news 

NPR reported that Cigna used the UCLA Loneliness Scale -- one of the best-known tools for measuring loneliness -- to obtain results. The questionnaire, from University of California, Los Angeles, calculates a loneliness score based on a series of statements and a formula. Those who score between 20 and 80 are considered lonely. The higher the score, the more socially isolated and lonely the respondent is.

Twenty questions are on the questionnaire, which is balanced between positive, such as “How often do you feel outgoing and friendly?” and negative, such as, “How often do you feel alone?”

Forty-six percent of those surveyed said they sometimes or always feel alone. Forty-seven percent said they sometimes or always felt left out.

Other results said Americans who live with others were less likely to report feeling lonely, and those who were single parents or guardians were more likely to be lonely although they lived with children. About 43 percent of Americans said they sometimes or always feel their relationships are not meaningful. Fifty-three percent said they have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis, and 27 percent rarely or never feel as though there are people who understand them.

Although young adults in the study have reported being the loneliest, the study reported that social media is not a sole predictor of loneliness. Those who spend more time or less time than desired with family have similar feelings of loneliness. Those who reported that they work, sleep and exercise just the right amount had lower loneliness scores.

“There is an inherent link between loneliness and the workplace, with employers in a unique position to be a critical part of the solution,” Dr. Douglas Nemecek, Cigna chief medical officer for behavioral health, said in the release. “Fortunately, these results clearly point to the benefits meaningful in-person connections can have on loneliness, including those in the workplace and the one that takes place in your doctor’s office as a part of the annual checkup.”

Independent market research company Ipsos, founded in France in 1975, conducted the study in the form of a poll on behalf of Cigna, the news release said. The poll was conducted online in English from Feb. 21 - March 6, 2018.

More information on the study, including the method for getting the results, are at Cigna.com.

Utah VA clinic launches probe after vet's dad tweets about 'unsanitary' room

After the father of a U.S. Army veteran tweeted photographs of what he called “an unsanitary and disrespectful” exam room at a Veterans Affairs clinic in Utah, an administrator said the facility is conducting an investigation, KSL reported.

>> Read more trending news

Stephen Wilson, whose son Christopher Wilson was being treated for an ankle injury he suffered in Iraq, took photographs at the clinic in Salt Lake City on April 5 and posted them Friday on Twitter.

The tweeted photos show a counter cluttered with medical supplies, an overflowing garbage can and dirty bowls in a sink.

“I figured they would say, 'Oh, this room's not clean' and take me somewhere else, but they just kind of blew past it, didn't acknowledge it,” Christopher Wilson, who spent six years in the Army and was deployed to Iraq twice, told KSL. “They're doctors, right? So I figure one of them was going to say ‘Let's go somewhere else’ or ‘Give us a minute to clean it,’ but nothing.”

Stephen Wilson’s Twitter post has been retweeted more than 16,000 times and there are more than 2,300 comments.

Dr. Karen Gribbin, chief of staff at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center, said she “was taken aback by the condition of the room” when she saw the photographs on Twitter.

“Mr. Wilson should not have been placed in the room in that condition,” Gribbin told KSL. “The room should be cleaned, supplies and trash removed, before the next patient is placed in there. We are beginning our investigation into seeing exactly how this happened."

Christopher Wilson said he was in the room to get 18 injections in his ankle and surrounding area. He said the room “felt unsanitary.”

“When you think medical (office), you think sanitary,” Christopher Wilson told KSL. “I've never experienced anything like that.”

Gribbin said the photos of the room indicate "it might have been taken in one of our clinics that does casting procedures for patients." 

"My understanding was that strictly these casts are applied in this room but there (are) not other types of debridement or surgical removal of tissue or anything like that that occurs (in the room), so I do not believe Mr. Wilson was exposed to any dangerous body fluids or blood,” Gribbin told KSL. “But regardless, the room should have been cleaned before he was placed in it.”

British toddler Alfie Evans, at center of legal battle, dies

Alfie Evans, the 23-month-old boy who was at the center of a legal battle in the United Kingdom, died Saturday, the BBC reported.

>> Read more trending news

The parents of Alfie, who had a degenerative brain condition, lost legal challenges that allowed the hospital to take the boy off life support on Monday.

Thomas Evans, the boy’s father, wrote on Facebook that “My gladiator lay down his shield and gained his wings. … absolutely heartbroken.”

Evans and Alfie's mother, Kate James, clashed with doctors over the child’s treatment, the BBC reported.

Alfie was first admitted to Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool in December 2016 after suffering seizures. His parents wanted to fly the toddler to a hospital in Italy, but their request was rejected by doctors who said continuing treatment was “not in Alfie's best interests,” the BBC reported.

The hospital said scans showed “catastrophic degradation of his brain tissue” and that further treatment was futile and also “unkind and inhumane.”

Alfie’s parents fought the hospital’s medical staff in court for four months, but lost when the High Court ruled in favor of the hospital on Feb. 20. The decision was upheld on appeal.

Alfie was granted Italian citizenship Monday, but judges upheld a ruling preventing the boy from traveling abroad after his life support was withdrawn, the BBC reported.

Thousands of balloons were released in his memory.

Georgia doctor arrested after threatening to 'slit' employees' throats

A doctor in south Georgia is facing felony charges after allegedly making threats to employees at her medical practice, WTXL reported.

>> Read more trending news

Marian Antoinette Patterson turned herself in to authorities in Lowndes County on Thursday. She is charged with three counts of terroristic threats and one count of false imprisonment, WTXL reported. 

In February, Patterson allegedly yelled expletives at employees and threatened to “slit their throats,” according to a license suspension order from the Georgia Composite Medical Board. 

According to the order, Patterson allegedly told another employee she was going to cut her from “her throat to her private parts.” She also allegedly threatened to cut another employee’s head off, “roll it down a hallway,” and “call the employee's children so that they could see it." 

At one point, Patterson grabbed an employee by the arm and refused to allow the employee to leave.

The board suspended Patterson’s license on March 5, writing that her practice "poses a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare, and imperatively requires emergency action," WTXL reported.

Patterson has been licensed to practice since 1996, and board records show no disciplinary actions have been taken against her in the past, WTXL reported.

20-year-old bear attack survivor bitten by shark while surfing

Dylan McWilliams loves nature, but nature doesn’t always love him back.

The 20-year-old Grand Junction, Colorado, resident was surfing off the Kauai coastline in Hawaii Thursday morning when he suddenly felt searing pain in his calf. He told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he looked down to see what appeared to be a tiger shark between 6 and 8 feet long.

“At first, I panicked,” McWilliams told the newspaper. “I didn’t know if I lost half my leg or what.”

The panic gave way to his survival instinct, and he kicked the shark away as hard as he could. He began desperately swimming for shore, which he said was the scariest part of the ordeal.

“I didn’t know where the shark was, and I didn’t know if he would come after me again,” McWilliams said

A woman who heard his cries for help called 911 once he reached shore and took him to an urgent care facility, where seven stitches were used to close the deep gashes in his leg. 

McWilliams, who has worked as a tree trimmer, ranch hand and survival training instructor, shared the gory images on Facebook. Click here to see his post

“First time in the water in Kauai and get tagged by a shark,” he said. 

McWilliams’ friends were shocked by the encounter, in part because it is not the first time in the past year he has been attacked by a wild animal. CBS Denver reported that McWilliams, then 19, was camping at Glacier View Ranch near Boulder in July when he was attacked by a 300-pound black bear. 

“Are you kidding me?” one Facebook friend asked. “Dude, why do you always have animals wanting to eat you?”

>> Read more trending news

McWilliams relived his summer ordeal, which began when the bear grabbed him as he slept, following Thursday’s shark attack. 

“The bear grabbed the back of my head and started pulling me and I was fighting back as best as I could,” McWilliams told Hawaii News Now. “It dropped me and stomped on me a little bit, and I was able to get back to the group and they scared it away.”

McWilliams said he was lucky to have survived not only the bear and the shark, but also to have survived a rattlesnake bite during a 2015 hike in Utah, the Star-Advertiser reported. The bite was a “dry bite,” which only delivered enough venom to make him ill for a couple of days. 

National Geographic reported that the odds of one person being bitten by a shark, a bear and a rattlesnake are 893.35 quadrillion to one. An average American has a one in 11.5 million chance of being bitten by a shark.

A person is more likely to be attacked by a bear, with odds of one in 2.1 million, the magazine reported. 

The odds of being bitten by a poisonous snake in the U.S. are one in 37,500. 

Some commenters on Facebook called McWilliams a “legend” for all he’s survived, while others chastised him for getting in the water when much of the island was under a “brown water advisory,” meaning that bad storms had turned much of the coastal waters brown.

Murky water is known to bring in sharks, who prowl the coastline looking for an easy meal. 

“Can tell he’s not from around here or he would have known that,” one person wrote. 

“I guess no one told you that murky water attracts sharks, huh?” another man wrote. 

“It was actually mostly clear where I was,” McWilliams responded.

“‘Mostly’ is a key word in this situation,” the man wrote back. “But it looks like the island gods were ‘mostly’ looking out for you. Speedy recovery, broheem.”

McWilliams told Hawaii News Now that he does not plan on letting his encounter with the tiger shark keep him down.

“I’m just mad that I can’t get back in the water for a couple days,” he said. 

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