Breaking: TX Governor commutes death sentence of Thomas Whitaker

Breaking:  Texas Governor Greg Abbott has accepted the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommendation of clemency for Thomas Whitaker, who was scheduled to be executed in Huntsville just 30 minutes from now.  It is the first such commutation in Texas since 2007.  Whitaker will now serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Read the Governor’s statement here.

Read more from ABC News and the Texas Tribune.

In an interview with Megyn Kelly on “Today,” Kent and Tanya Whitaker describe the agonizing day of the scheduled execution as they waited to learn whether Governor Abbott would spare Thomas’ life.

Chorus of voices called for clemency
Dozens upon dozens of letters were submitted to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles as part of Whitaker’s petition for clemency.  Once the Board announced its unanimous recommendation for clemency, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, State Representative Jeff Leach, and State Representative Joe Moody, who chairs the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, all called on Governor Abbott to commute the sentence in accordance with the Board’s recommendation.

“Law and order pro-life conservatives should not be afraid to review these cases,” Leach said. “This is one of those issues where the right thing is the right thing, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”

Background on clemency
Since 1982, the Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended clemency in only five cases where the inmate faced imminent execution. Texas Governor Rick Perry rejected two of those recommendations and allowed the executions to proceed.

  • Henry Lee Lucas – Governor George W. Bush commuted his sentence in 1998 due to lingering concerns about guilt. Lucas died of natural causes in prison in 2001 while serving a life sentence.
  • Kelsey Patterson – Governor Rick Perry rejected the Board’s 5-1 vote for clemency due to evidence of Patterson’s severe mental illness. His execution occurred on May 18, 2004.
  • Kenneth Foster – Governor Perry commuted his sentence in 2007 due to concern about a Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously. Foster had been convicted under the law of parties for a 1996 murder, even though he was sitting in a car 80 feet away at the time of the crime. The Board vote was 6 to 1. Foster is serving a life sentence.
  • Robert Lee Thompson – Governor Rick Perry rejected the Board’s recommendation for clemency due to the fact that Thompson was not the triggerman in the murder of Mansoor Rahim. He had been convicted under the law of parties. His co-defendant, Sammy Butler, the actual killer of Mr. Rahim, was tried separately and convicted on a lesser charge. Butler is serving a life sentence and will be eligible for parole. Thompson was executed on November 19, 2009.

The Board’s unanimous recommendation in the Whitaker case was the first of its kind.