Kent Whitaker—an extraordinary man and an exceptional father. A person could travel this wretched globe ten times over and could count the number of Kent Whitakers he would find on one hand.
On December 10, 2003, Kent Whitaker’s eldest son, Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, carried out a diabolical scheme he had been nurturing the previous three years: a plot to kill his father, mother and younger brother so he could inherit the family estate estimated to be worth $1 million.
Plan to Kill Family for Insurance Money
Bart had convinced his family that he was about to graduate from college and wanted to take them out to dinner to celebrate. There is no way the Whitaker family in their wildest imagination would have thought that while they were out to dinner two associates of Bart had arrived at their residence with instructions from Bart to kill the entire family upon their return to their Sugar Land, Texas residence.
Christopher Brashear, Bart’s roommate, was told to enter the residence and kill the whole family when they entered the residence—except Thomas, of course. Another associate, Steven Champagne, was instructed to wait outside in a getaway vehicle to speed Brashear from the bloody murder scene.
Any plan of action has a hidden component of failure in it. It has been written and articulated in hundreds of languages that this life came from universal chaos and into universal chaos it will inevitably descend.
Mother and Brother Murdered
Brashear managed to kill Bart’s 51-year-old mother, Patricia, and his 19-year-old brother, Kevin, but left Kent Whitaker bloody and seriously wounded. The father, of course, survived.
By June 2004, Fort Bend County, Texas law enforcement officials had focused their investigation primarily on Bart who then stole $10,000 from his father and bolted for Mexico. He was captured 15 months later and returned to Fort Bend County.
At Whitaker’s subsequent capital murder trial, Kent Whitaker testified about meeting his son following his return to Fort Bend County:
“I hadn’t seen my son in 15 months. He walked in, and there was the bulletproof glass separating us, and he looked down, and I think I told him that I missed him, and he looked good. And he said, ‘Dad, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for everything. I’m going to do everything in my power to make this as easy and painless as possible for everyone’.”
It was at that moment that Kent Whitaker realized his son had orchestrated the brutal murder of his wife, son, and the attempted murder of him through a contract killer. It was the worst realization a father could come to terms with about a son.
Father Fights to Prevent Death Penalty
Still, Kent Whitaker could not bear the thought of his son being executed by the State of Texas. He hired attorneys in a desperate, futile effort to avoid the death penalty that Fort Bend County prosecutors were seeking. Bart offered to plead guilty to two life sentences but the overture was rebuffed by prosecutors. They secured the sought-after death penalty in March 2007.
Later that year, Brashear received a life sentence as the triggerman while Champagne received a 15-year sentence after both cooperated with authorities against Bart.
For the past decade, Kent Whitaker had waged a herculean effort to save his son from an appointment with lethal injection. That appointment was set for the evening of February 22nd in the death chamber at the state’s infamous Huntsville prison. Bart prepared himself to die. Judgment day had arrived.
Last Ditch Effort for Clemency
Whitaker, and the attorney he hired to save his son, Keith Hampton, made a last-ditch effort for clemency before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Neither Hampton nor Kent Whitaker expected any relief from the board which has a notoriously conservative record against clemency for condemned inmates.
But in the midst of life’s chaos, an angel appeared.
The Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended that Bart’s death sentence be commuted to life in prison. The recommendation was sent to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for his final decision on whether to let the execution proceed or spare Bart’s life.
Governor Acts Moments Before Execution
Just minutes before the lethal drugs were scheduled to be administered through a needle into Bart’s restrained arm, Gov. Abbott approved the board’s recommendation and commuted Bart’s death sentence to life imprisonment. The governor’s decision was influenced by Kent Whitaker’s pleas for mercy.
In a written statement, Gov. Abbott said: “Mr. Whitaker’s father, who survive d 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 the last remaining immediate family member.”
The original prosecutor in the case, Fred Felcman, was not pleased about the parole board’s decision to commute and the governor’s approval of the board’s action.
“The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles ignored the police officers who worked on the case and they ignored the District Attorney’s office, which had to make [a] decision based on the law and the stringent requirements we need to make on death penalty cases,” Felcman railed after the decision to commute was made. “They just arbitrarily decide not to follow that. They also ignored the community in Fort Bend County that was outraged by the crime. They ignored the citizens who were satisfied justice had been done.”
The parole board and the governor ignored no one. They chose to respond with a just decision—one influenced by the real victim of the crime—and to fulfill the difficult responsibilities they faced in this unusual situation.
We salute each of them for honoring those responsibilities.