A Travis County judge Monday sentenced Thomas Brock to 45 years in prison after he stabbed and killed a man with a sword outside of a Northeast Austin pawn shop in May 2012.
Brock, 37, pleaded guilty to murder last week in the death of Luis Hernandez Vigil. He told the court that he understood the charges against him but that his life had been altered when he was taken before Satan at birth and replicated by a machine.
District Judge David Wahlberg, who ruled that Brock knew right from wrong and was competent to stand trial, told Brock that “the evidence is clear that you killed an innocent, harmless, defensive person in a brutal manner and it was entirely random.”
However, he said Brock had no history of violence while in custody and seemed to be responding well to a structured environment and effort to treat his mental health. With continuing help “you may not be a continuing danger” to the community.
Assistant District Attorney Judy Shipway argued otherwise, saying Brock was dangerous to others.
“Our society needs protection from this individual,” Shipway said. “He enjoys hurting people. He enjoys killing. He uses his mental illness as an excuse to do whatever he wants.”
Brock showed no reaction as he was sentenced.
Testimony in the sentencing hearing that started Wednesday examined his psyche and broken past, delving into the emotional trauma and mental illnesses his lawyer said he had struggled with since he was 8 years old.
His attorney, Kellie Bailey, had sought leniency from the judge, pointing to the differences and difficulties she said psychiatrists had in coming to a diagnosis and treatment plan for her client. Brock had been an abused and neglected child, often forced to cope with his severe mental health problems on his own, she said.
Born in Pasadena, Calif., Brock had been raised by his drug-addled mother, who misused painkillers and would crush Benadryl in his bottle to put the child to sleep, witnesses testified. His father abused alcohol, and after his parents divorced, the boy was physically and sexually abused by several stepparents, according to the testimony.
As a teen, he had difficulties learning in school, experimented with inhalants and drugs and developed severe mental illnesses and emotional disorders, psychiatrists said. He began hearing voices and having hallucinations about the Illuminati, creatures he called “the invisibles” and a replicator machine he believed was once used by the Nazis to make copies of people, witnesses testified.
But since May 2012, three psychiatrists had found he was sane the moment he killed Vigil, and after spending more than a year at an area hospital, he was found competent in June to stand trial.
The insanity defense is rarely proved in court. The law defines someone as insane if he or she has a “severe mental disease or defect” that causes him not to know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the offense. In court, last week, psychiatrists said Brock could rein in his delusions and had known what he did was wrong.
Brock did not know Vigil, who was struggling with his own problems with alcohol and often hung out in the neighborhood, where many had nicknamed him “King Louie” for his kindness, Vigil’s family said outside the courtroom.
Vigil, 57, was found dead about 4:30 a.m. outside of an EZ Pawn in the 5200 block of Cameron Road. Detectives followed a trail of blood from the pawn shop to a home in the 1200 block of East 52nd Street, where they found Brock, who had cut his hand, the affidavit said.
Brock, who has convictions for attempted capital murder and assault, later told detectives that he committed the killing because he heard voices in his head and “had been reincarnated and replicated over the years,” the document said.
On the stand, doctors gave a glimpse into the mental health challenges in his case.
General and forensic psychiatrist Maureen Burrows testified that Brock has given officers and doctors many different motives for murder, including that he did it out of revenge or that he thought he saw an alien. He had a history of deceptiveness, making him difficult to treat, she said.
Psychologist David Landers said Brock had a severe mental illness and was sicker than most of his patients he believed were insane. Yet, “To be legally insane it doesn’t matter that you are sick but that you know right from wrong,” he said.