Wednesday, 20 June, 2018

Texas Gov. weighs parole board's advice on death row inmate's fate

Texas Board of Pardons votes to commute murderer's death sentence following calls from victim Thomas"Bart Whitaker killed his mother and brother
Sammy Stanley | 23 February, 2018, 04:19

On Tuesday, the seven-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended that Abbott commute Whitaker's death sentence. "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", Abbott said.

"Mr. Whitaker's father, who survived the attempt on his life, passionately opposes the execution of his son".

The 38-year-old Whitaker was set for execution Thursday evening for masterminding a murder plot that took the lives of his mother and younger brother at the family home in suburban Houston in 2003. His father was also shot, but survived his injuries and has asked the state for clemency for his son. That factor alone may not warrant commutation for someone like Mr. Whitaker who recruited others to commit murder.

He spent the morning meeting with relatives, including his father, who has pushed to have his son's life spared even though he was wounded in the shootings.

The US Supreme Court, which a year ago refused to review appeals in Whitaker's case, could also weigh in at the last minute.

For years, Kent Whitaker has been moving heaven and earth to try and get mercy for his son, whom he forgave from his hospital bed. If Abbott complies with the board's recommendation, he will be commuted to a life sentence.

Texas governors can not grant commutation without prior support from the parole board, and the Whitaker case was Abbott's first such decision in a death row case.

The prosecutor in Whitaker's case, Fred Felcman, told The Texas Tribune Tuesday that Abbott shouldn't grant clemency for Whitaker.

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The announcement of the decision came just hours after Whitaker was transferred from the prison unit that houses men's death row to Huntsville, where he was placed in a cell near the death chamber.

However, if the Governor does rule Whitaker should be killed, his father has said he will attend tomorrow (February 22).

As the greatest victim in this case, you don't have to convince me how terrible this crime was, he said. The crime deserves severe punishment for the criminals who killed them.

In the clemency petition, Whitaker's attorneys said his execution would "permanently compound" his father's suffering and grief, and compared the case to the biblical story of Cain and Abel, where God sent Cain to "restlessly wander" after killing his brother.

This was the first time Abbott has been forced to make the final decision for a death row inmate facing execution.

Abbott's options appear to be accepting the recommendation, rejecting it or doing nothing. It was the parole board's decision.

Thomas Whitaker's life is in the governor's hands as the clock ticks toward his Thursday night execution.

"I think the most important thing is both I and my staff have the opportunity to evaluate all the facts, all the circumstances, all the law and base our decision on all of that information", Abbott said.

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