|About 40 minutes before Bart Whitaker was scheduled to be executed, the governor spoke.
SUGAR LAND, Texas (KTRK) --
Gov. Greg Abbott has chosen to commute the execution of the Sugar Land
man convicted in the 2003 murders of his mother and brother.
Abbott's actions came down to the wire after an unusual move by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which recommended clemency in this case.
decision, in part, was based on the pleas from Kent Whitaker, who met
this morning with his son for what might have been the very last time.
Whitaker was even served his last meal of chicken enchiladas, rice, beans and vegetables.
all appearances, the execution looked as if it would go forward. But
now he will spend the rest of his life in prison, without the
possibility of parole.
Kent Whitaker threw kisses and embraced
friends outside the Walls Unit in Huntsville after recalling the moment
he learned his son's life had been spared.
"At that point I put
it on speaker and let everybody hear it, and the whole room erupted. It
was overpowering. So grateful. So grateful," Whitaker told reporters. "I
want to thank everyone. In particular, I want to thank the governor."
Here is what Whitaker said to prison officials:
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
Not everyone was so supportive of Abbott's choice to commute Whitaker's execution.
Death was the correct decision, said one of the jurors. She is disappointed but not surprised by what the governor did.
came to the conclusion that Bart Whitaker was a master manipulator. He
manipulated people into killing for him. The death sentence was the
correct sentence. I also feel he manipulated the parole board and the
governor," said the juror, who asked not to be identified.
Bend County District Attorney John Healey told Eyewitness News, "I know
the sentence of death was the appropriate decision, but I do respect the
Thursday night, Whitaker was being moved
to an inmate processing center for re-classification within the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice, just hours after his father thought he
was saying his final goodbye.
"We touched hands through the glass
and said our goodbyes and we left to come here and he left to be
transported to the Walls Unit," said Kent Whitaker.
The following statement was issued from the Governor's office:
a former trial court judge, Texas Supreme Court Justice and Attorney
General involved in prosecuting some of the most notorious criminals in
Texas, I have the utmost regard for the role that juries and judges play
in our legal system. The role of the Governor is not to second-guess
the court process or re-evaluate the law and evidence. Instead, the
Governor's role under the Constitution is distinct from the judicial
function. The Governor's role is to consider recommendations by the
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and view matters through a lens
broader than the facts and law applied to a single case. That is
particularly important in death penalty cases.
"In just over
three years as Governor, I have allowed 30 executions. I have not
granted a commutation of a death sentence until now, for reasons I here
"The murders of Mr. Whitaker's mother and brother are
reprehensible. The crime deserves severe punishment for the criminals
who killed them. The recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles, and my action on it, ensures Mr. Whitaker will never be
released from prison.
"The decision of the Texas Board of Pardons
and Paroles is supported by the totality of circumstances in this case.
The person who fired the gun that killed the victims did not receive
the death penalty, but Mr. Whitaker, who did not fire the gun, did get
the death penalty. That factor alone may not warrant commutation for
someone like Mr. Whitaker who recruited others to commit murder.
Additional factors make the decision more complex.
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. Also, Mr. Whitaker voluntarily and forever
waived any and all claims to parole in exchange for a commutation of his
sentence from death to life without the possibility of parole.
Moreover, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously voted for
commutation. The totality of these factors warrants a commutation of Mr.
Whitaker's death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of
parole. Mr. Whitaker must spend the remainder of his life behind bars as
punishment for this heinous crime."