Thomas Bartlett Whitaker, who was sentenced to death after planning the murder of his family, was granted clemency by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Thomas’s father, Kent Whitaker, fought for his son’s life, even after the murder of his wife and his other son. Thomas Whitaker was minutes away from being executed by lethal injection when the governor’s decision came down.
In 2003, Thomas Bartlett Whitaker plotted to kill his family with his college roommate, Chris Brashear. Whitaker falsely told his family he had just graduated from Sam Houston University. In reality, he had already been kicked out of the school for missing too many classes. The family went out for dinner, and Brashear snuck into the house with a gun. When the family returned, Brashear fatally shot Thomas Whitaker’s brother and mother. He also wounded Kent by shooting him in the shoulder. The prosecution argued that Whitaker planned the murders for a $1 million inheritance. However, Kent Whitaker claimed he only ever had a $50,000 life insurance policy on himself, and that his son suffered from mental illness.
Kent Whitaker vehemently opposed his son’s execution. He said in a news conference prior to the governor’s decision, “Victim’s rights should mean something in this state even when the victim is asking for mercy and not vengeance.” He continued, saying: “There’s a chance for the governor to be tough on crime and still grant me the victim’s right to ask for mercy.” Kent’s campaigning for his son’s life led the Texas Parole Board to unanimously recommend clemency. Governor Greg Abbott made the final decision to grant clemency to Thomas Whitaker partially because of Kent’s forgiveness.
“Mr. Whitaker’s father, who survived the attempt on his life, passionately opposes the execution of his son,” Abbott told reporters regarding his decision, “Mr. Whitaker’s father insists that he would be victimized again if the state put to death his last remaining immediate family member.” The Parole Board’s decision and other mitigating factors also influenced the Governor’s decision. This included the fact that Chris Brashear received a lesser sentence, despite being the one to actually kill Thomas’ family members.
Abbott also took into account that Thomas Bartlett Whitaker had been a model prisoner. While on death row, Whitaker helped inmates who were suffering from mental issues. He also started a blog where he shared stories from other death row inmates. He earned a bachelor’s degree and is working toward a master’s degree in English literature. This is the first time in over 10 years that a Texas governor has commuted a death sentence. In the past, Governor Greg Abbott had been a staunch supporter of the death penalty.
Thomas Bartlett Whitaker said in a statement that he was “thankful for this decision,” adding “not for me but for my dad.” He continued by saying that “Whatever punishment I might have received or will receive will be just. I deserve any punishment for my crimes, but my Dad did nothing wrong.” He also said that the system had worked in this instance and that he planned to “uphold [his] end of the bargain.” In exchange for clemency, Thomas Whitaker waived all claims to parole. He will spend the rest of his life in prison.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Fred Feldman, believes the parole board’s decision was misguided. He told the Texas Tribune that he believed Thomas Bartlett Whitaker was a “narcissistic sociopath” who manipulated his own father. “I have yet to hear anybody who has listened to the facts of the case, what he has done afterwards on death row, who says this is an injustice except people who are anti-death penalty,” he said, “He was the ringleader. He literally led his family back to be assassinated.”
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