Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday accepted the state parole board's recommendation and spared the life of Thomas "Bart" Whitaker.
"It was so bad; we were crying at the end because it looked like it was actually going to happen", Kent Whitaker told The Austin American-Statesman by phone from Huntsville.
"The seven-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members are appointed by the governor, recommended unanimously Tuesday that Abbott commute the sentence".
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David Gutierrez, the parole board's presiding officer, said the panel recommended the governor commute Whitaker's sentence "to a lesser penalty". A Texas governor has not approved a board proposal for clemency since 2007. The most recent time was on January 7, 2010, when executions took place in Louisiana, Ohio and Texas.
The father, a 69-year-old devout Christian and retired construction company executive, has said if the death penalty is implemented, it would only intensify his pain. It's unclear whether Abbott will accept or reject it.
Rytting said Abbott should trust the parole board.
"Any time anybody's life is at stake, that's a very serious matter", Abbott said.
Thomas Whitaker was sentenced to die for setting up the 2003 ambush that wounded his father and killed his mother, Tricia, and only other sibling, brother Kevin, a college sophomore, as they entered their Sugar Land home.
The gunman, Chris Brashear, pleaded guilty in 2007 to a murder charge and was sentenced to life in prison.
Abbott said he had taken into consideration the fact that "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".
Local prosecutors said they considered the family's views but stood by Whitaker's sentence as appropriate for such a brutal crime.
Fred Felcman, the original prosecutor in the case, said the board made its decision purely because of the father's forgiveness and disregarded the large number of others affected by the murders.
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.
"There's a chance for the governor to be tough on crime and still grant me the victim's right to ask for mercy", he told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, just before the board vote came in.
"Mr. Whitaker's father, who survived the attempt on his life, passionately opposes the execution of his son", Abbott added, saying that played a factor in his decision.
"It was only the fourth time since the state resumed executions in 1982 that the parole board has recommended clemency within days of an inmate's scheduled execution".
With the state parole board putting Whitaker's fate in the governor's hands, there have been no easy decisions to make.
Whitaker could avoid execution without Abbott.
Lawyers for Branch appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, citing arguments including that the court previously blocked a Florida provision that allows executions for a non-unanimous jury decision and should do so again in this case.