Saturday, February 03, 2018

Interview: Father/victim of soon-to-be-executed inmate pleas for son's life

Thomas Whitaker is scheduled for execution later this month for orchestrating an attack on his family in 2003 in which his mother and brother died and his father was injured. His father, Richard "Kent" Whitaker, is waging a campaign to convince the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott to commute his sentence to life. The Washington Post yesterday published a feature on the story.

On the latest episode of our Reasonably Suspicious podcast, my co-host Mandy Marzullo spoke with Kent Whitaker about his son's case and his longshot campaign to secure mercy in the form of a gubernatorial commutation. Give it a listen:

Find a transcript of this conversation below the jump.

Interview: Mandy Marzullo interviews Kent Whitaker, father of Thomas Whitaker who's scheduled for execution on February 22nd.

Scott Henson: Thomas Bartlett Whitaker, known as "Bart" to his family, is scheduled for execution in February for his role in arranging an attack on his family in Fort Bend County, Texas, that left his mother and brother dead, and his father, Richard, injured. Now his father is pleading for the Parole Board and Governor Abbot to save his sons life. For the January 2018 episode our Reasonably Suspicious podcast, my co-host Mandy Marzullo spoke with Richard Whitaker about his life or death campaign. We ran an expert on the podcast, but here's the full interview.

Amanda Marzullo: Thank you Richard for sitting down with me, I really appreciate it. Why should the Board of Pardons and Paroles change your son's sentence?

Kent Whitaker: One of the jobs that the Pardons and Paroles Board has is to be an oversight on the legal system, and to make corrections whenever there's something that just is an error, that gets through the system, and I think that's the case here. I think the District Attorney overstepped in pursing the death penalty in this case in the first place. And I'm just asking the Board to listen to that and to consider giving him life in prison instead of the execution.

Amanda Marzullo: What about the decision to seek death, was an overstep?

Kent Whitaker: I think what the overstep involved in their decision to pursue the death penalty versus life in prison, they were offered two back to back, 40 year first degree murder, life in prison options, but they chose to pursue the death penalty anyway. Which I understand is their choice, but what makes this egregious is that every victim, and I'm talking about my wife's family, my family, myself, everyone that was involved as a victim in this case, pleaded with them for 18 months not to pursue the death penalty, so that we could avoid the horrors of a trial and then what we're facing now, a possible eventual execution. I think they overstepped by pursing that when they should have given the victims a little bit more right in what penalty they pursued.

Amanda Marzullo: How has this decision affected your family?

Kent Whitaker: What the execution will do, if this actually takes place, the execution is going to throw myself and all of my family and all of Trish's family, back where we were the night of the murders. All of that grief and all of that loss and the horrors of the trials itself, that was a horrible thing. And we've worked really hard to process that grief and it's just going to throw us right back there where it was, and we're going to be doubly victimized because now, not only are we grieving about Kevin and Trisha, we're grieving about Bart too, who's the last living member of my family.

Amanda Marzullo: Given the nature of the crime in this case, are you tarnishing your wife and son's memories?

Kent Whitaker: No, actually I think I'm doing just the opposite. I think I'm honoring their memory. I know I'm honoring what they would want to do in this case. The idea that there's going to be another death on their name, that would be horrific to them. Anybody that knew Trisha or Kevin, even just a little bit, knows that this not what they would want. Not at all. And I just want the Board to understand just how appalled they both would be at the possibility of Bart being executed.

Amanda Marzullo: Texas is a conservative State, is clemency for your son consistent with its mindset?

Kent Whitaker: Well as a Conservative myself, I don't think it does. I think a real conservative would do the same thing if they were in my shoes. Because I've been a law and order guy all my life, and always will be. But that doesn't mean that I always give a rubber stamp approval to everything that our officials tell us to do. I think it's really important to have a touch of healthy skepticism. Otherwise, you have things like Nazi Germany, where everybody just went along. And in this case, I think the District Attorney overstepped. It was a decision that should not have been made and I just feel like it's my responsibility to call them to it. This is kind of in-bred in me I guess. I'm a 5th generation Texan and my great, great, great, however many greats it is, grandfather, fought at San Jacinto and I just believe that this is 100% conservative Texas law and order kind of decision

Amanda Marzullo: So what actions can the Board take?

Kent Whitaker: Well really, really the Board only has two choices. Either they deny mercy to me and go ahead and kill him. Or they too recommend that the Governor change his sentence to life in prison versus the execution. And by the way, this isn't asking for anything really special here. The Board, the public, and District Attorney's all over the State of Texas routinely defer to victims on whether to spare the life of a killer. And I'm just asking for the same courtesy.

Amanda Marzullo: Is this is a case about forgiveness?

Kent Whitaker: I understand that there are people who don't get it, how I could forgive my son. But we're not asking anybody to forgive him, we're just asking to let him live. There's a big difference between forgiveness and commutation. Commutation just means that you're changing the sentence for something to be more appropriate. It doesn't say that you're forgiving them, letting them off the hook, reducing the severity of the consequences of their action. It just means that there's a more appropriate, more justified sentence that they would give him. And that's all we're asking. We're not asking anybody to forgive him.

Amanda Marzullo: You are a Christian, so does this case comport with the Old Testament's teaching of an eye for an eye?

Kent Whitaker: Well, that is what the Old Testament calls for, but we're not living under the Old Testament anymore. See when Jesus died on the cross, he fulfilled all those Old Testament vengeance and sacrificial laws and they don't apply to us anymore. When he died, he paid the price for everybody's sin, regardless of what they were, if you'll accept it. And when God gave us the New Testament 2,000 years ago, he fulfilled the Old Testament and called for us to take a different path. And a better path really. And it's one that I hope the Board will take.

Amanda Marzullo: As a conservative, do you support the death penalty?

Kent Whitaker: I believe that there is a place for the death penalty. I suspect that there are going to be cases that come up, but I think it should be rarer than it is and I definitely believe that in this instance, it was misapplied.

Amanda Marzullo: What reasons would you give to the Board for granting this request?

Kent Whitaker: Well other than just the fairness of it, since the DA barged ahead with the death penalty against the wishes of every victim, and the fact that he then turned around and gave a plea bargain to the young man who actually pulled the trigger, he was allowed to plead a one degree of first degree murder. Besides the fairness of it, I point to the fact that Bart's record in prison has been really amazing.

He's spent more than 4,000 days, it's been over 11 years since he's been in prison and he has been a model prisoner that whole time. He's stayed out of trouble, he's never hurt anybody and he's worked really hard on improving himself and he understands himself a lot better. He's used the time and maturity ... I mean, he's 38 years old now. Well let's see, among other things, he's taken anger management classes, he's taken religious classes and philosophy classes and he's worked at learning how to help others. He's pursued a Bachelor's Degree and now has got his Masters Thesis in committee at Cal State, waiting to be completed and conferred.

He's really worked hard on improving himself in these 11 years, and he's become kind of a ... Well he's well liked by everybody back there. Not just the prisoners, but the guards and administration itself. He's proven to be kind of a peacemaker when tempers flare back there, and I just hope that the Board will consider what he's done in the interim since the trial and recognize that this is a man that has worked really hard at recognizing his weaknesses and to overcome them. I just hope that they will give him life, and allow him to live.

Amanda Marzullo: Do you have anything else that you want to add before we wrap up?

Kent Whitaker: Here is the concern that I have. Texas claims, and rightly so, to be a victim's right State. And I'm just asking the Board to acknowledge that being a victim's right State means something, even when the victim is asking for mercy and not just when the victim wants vengeance.

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Anonymous said...

The father is absolutely right when it comes to the Old Testament's "eye for an eye" standard. Anyone who calls themselves a Christian should know that Christ clearly repudiated that attitude and commanded us to forgive those who sin against us instead. However, if the father thinks that a life sentence is a mercy, he may want to think again. A lifetime in a maximum security prison is a hellish existence, in many ways harsher and crueler than a quick and humane execution. Many would rather die than spend the rest of their lives in that kind of place. Of course, his son may or may not feel that way, the article doesn't mention the son's opinion in that regard.

Unknown said...

Clearly you have no idea what God saus in the New Testament which just reinforces the Old Testament. Romans chapter 13 clearly states that the government is given the sword for a reason. Im sorry for the dad but this violent murderer got the right sentence

Unknown said...

That's the problem with Christian. They pick and choose the Bible quote that suits their purposes. The state should not have the right to kill its citizens. Human rights > state abuse of power.

Steven Michael Seys said...

Anonymous is correct in his interpretation of the Christian standard of justice. Those who pick and chose what to follow are the definition of the word heretic. In Greek heresios is one who picks and chooses what to believe out the the whole of the Christian faith. Remember, when the Apostles where tried before the Sanhedren and commanded to refrain from preaching Jesus they replied, whom shall we obey, God or men? The fact is that while government is ordained by God, men and women do the governing, and all the faults of humanity are expressed in said government. It is the duty of a Christian to call out the government when they act against God.

Anonymous said...

The religious arguments don't mean much to me and I'm not moved by the account of this "model prisoner." But I'd defer to the wishes of the victims, the people who suffered the most and the most directly, and commute the sentence as they request. That's what I'd want the state to do - minimize the pain of the innocents.