Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has commuted the death sentence of a man who masterminded the murder of his mother and brother after the inmate’s father, who barely survived the crime, pleaded for his killer son’s life to be spared.
Abbott’s decision, announced just a half-hour before Thomas “Bart” Whitaker was set to receive a lethal injection, is only the third time in four decades that a Texas governor has granted clemency to a death-row inmate on humanitarian ground.
Whitaker, 38, will now serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 2003 double murder. Abbott, who has allowed 30 executions to proceed under his watch, said he was partially swayed by the emotional appeal of the inmate’s father, Kent Whitaker.
“Mr. Whitaker’s father, who survived the attempt on his life, passionately opposes the execution of his son. Mr. Whitaker’s father insists that he would be victimized again if the state put to death his last remaining immediate family member,” the governor said in a statement.
Thomas Whitaker, 38, was convicted of hatching a 2003 plot to murder his wealthy parents and 19-year-old brother for inheritance money. His father was also shot but survived, and this week he convinced the state parole board to recommend a life sentence.
On the night of the killings, Thomas Whitaker’s roommate was lying in wait with a loaded gun at the family’s suburban Houston home. As they returned from a dinner out, he shot and killed Whitaker’s mother, Tricia, and brother, Kevin.
In a clemency petition full of biblical quotations, Whitaker’s attorneys said his deeply religious father begged the district attorney’s office to seek life in prison for his son and was denied, while the actual gunman escaped a death sentence.
“Imagine two people in your family who you love most. Now, imagine one of them murders the other. There must be punishment. But would you prefer execution? What if that person was your only remaining child?” the lawyers wrote.
The parole board, they said, faced a profound question: “Is clemency warranted where execution might be justice for a wicked crime, yet would also permanently compound the suffering and grief of the remaining victim?”
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SOURCE: NBC News, Tracy Connor