Minutes before he was scheduled to be executed, Thomas Whitaker’s sentence was commuted to life without parole yesterday by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. In a statement, the governor cited several reasons for his decision. He noted that while Whitaker did not actually fire the gun that killed his mother and brother, and injured his father, he was sentenced to death while the actual gunman was not. He also cited the unanimous recommendation by the Texas parole board that his sentence be commuted; and that Whitaker had agreed not to appeal his life sentence in the future. But what was probably the most decisive factor was the appeal by Whitaker’s father, Kent, who has forgiven his son, and campaigned for mercy.
“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 victimized again if the state put to death his last remaining immediate family member,” Abbott said.
This was a major victory for victims’ rights. Too often, victims’ rights are only honored or considered if their wishes are aligned with what prosecutors’ or state officials’ want, which is usually the death penalty. If you can, please thank Gov. Abbott for what he did. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, this is only the third time since 1976, that a Texas governor has granted clemency to a condemned prisoner. Abbott’s email is: https://gov.texas.gov/apps/contact/opinion.aspx and phone: (512) 463-1782.