Father saves life of man who killed their family 30 minutes before execution due to take place

Maya Oppenheim

A man who hired a gunman to murder his mother and brother has had his death sentence commuted 30 minutes before the lethal injection took place.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott spared the life of Thomas “Bart” Whitaker after the inmate’s father begged for his son not to be killed.

Whitaker was jailed for life without parole for a 2003 scheme to inherit his family's considerable wealth by having his parents and 19-year-old brother murdered.

Mr Whitaker's roommate ambushed the family at their suburban Houston home as they returned from a dinner where Whitaker's father, Kent, had received a Rolex as a present.

The gunman shot and killed Whitaker's mother, Tricia, and brother, Kevin.

Kent Whitaker was also shot and badly wounded but survived. He subsequently forgave Whitaker and fought for him to be spared the death penalty.

Keith Hampton, Whitaker’s lawyer, said the family were in the prison’s so-called hospitality room waiting to be taken to the death chamber to view the execution when he called and told them the execution would no longer take place.

“I said the sentence has been commuted, and there was a lot of crying and clapping on the other end of the phone,” Mr Hampton told NBC News.

Mr Abbott’s decision to save Mr Whitaker is the third time in three decades a Texas governor has granted clemency to a death row inmate on a humanitarian basis.

Explaining his decision in a statement, the governor said: "Mr 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 victimised again if the state put to death his last remaining immediate family member.

"The totality of these factors warrants a commutation of Mr Whitaker's death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole."

Whitaker said he was grateful he had avoided execution in a statement to prison officials.

He said: "Any punishment that I would have or will receive is just, but my Dad did nothing wrong. The system worked for him today. And I will do my best to uphold my role in the system."