TEXAS: MINUTES BEFORE EXECUTION, GOV. GREG ABBOTT COMMUTES THE SENTENCE OF THOMAS WHITAKER
February 22, 2018:
Less than an hour before execution, Gov. Abbott commutes the sentence of Thomas Whitaker (38, White). (Source: texastribune.org, 22/02/2018)
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott broke that streak at the last minute Thursday when he accepted the state parole board’s rare and unanimous recommendation to grant clemency for Whitaker.
Abbott's order came down less than an hour before Whitaker's scheduled execution.
Whitaker was set to die for the 2003 murders of his mother and brother in Fort Bend County.
It was the first time the board had recommended to change a death sentence to life in prison since 2009 and the first time a governor accepted the change since 2007.
Abbott, a staunch supporter of the death penalty, said he granted clemency for Whitaker for many reasons: The triggerman in the murders got a lesser sentence; his father, a victim of the crime, passionately opposed the execution, and Whitaker had voluntarily waived all claims to parole in exchange, meaning he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Whitaker planned the murders of his family with his roommate, Chris Brashear, who shot the murder victims and Whitaker’s father, Kent, as they all came home from dinner one evening. The roommates had planned the murders to get inheritance money. He was sentenced to death in the murders in 2007, despite pleas for a life sentence from his father, who survived a gunshot wound to the chest in the shooting.
The prosecutor rejected a guilty plea offer because he said Whitaker wasn't remorseful and was being manipulative. Brashear got a life sentence and is eligible for parole in 2035. Kent Whitaker fought for mercy for his son throughout his death sentence. He pleaded with the parole board and Abbott not to take his son away since he had already lost the rest of his family. Death row inmates and former prison guards also sent letters to the parole board, attesting to Whitaker's good character, saying he was a model prisoner and helped other inmates on death row, according to his petition for clemency. State Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso who chairs the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, said in a letter to Abbott that he understood the jury's desire to carry out the ultimate punishment but asked the governor to grant clemency.
A Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Jeff Leach, of Plano, also worked to convince Abbott to change Whitaker’s sentence Thursday, he said.