Governor Spares Killer’s Life

For the first time since 2007, a Texas execution has been halted by the governor. Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Thursday evening commuting the death sentence of Thomas "Bart" Whitaker to life in prison without parole, less than an hour before Whitaker was to be executed in Huntsville. The 38-year-old Whitaker was convicted and sentenced to die for orchestrating the fatal shootings of his mother and brother at the family's Sugar Land home in 2003. His father Kent Whitaker was also targeted in the shootings but survived. Kent Whitaker has since become a vocal advocate for his son's clemency.

The governor's decision came two days after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended clemency for Bart Whitaker. In a statement on the commutation, Abbott said, "In just over three years as governor, I have allowed 30 executions. I have not granted a commutation of a death sentence until now." The governor went on to explain that a variety of factors, including the Pardons Board recommendation and the impassioned pleas from the killer's own father to spare his son's life led to the decision.

In a news conference following the commutation, Kent Whitaker expressed gratitude and called the news "overpowering." "I want to thank the governor for doing the hard work to review this unusual case and give it the extra special time it took to reach a good decision, and he did make the right decision, and we're very grateful for that," he said.

In a statement to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) after the commutation was handed down, Bart Whitaker said, "I'm thankful for this decision, not for me but for my dad. 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. The system worked for him today, and I will do my best to uphold my end of the bargain."

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