Death Watch: Justice for Whom?

Kent Whitaker never wanted execution for his son


Thomas Whitaker is up for execution next Thursday, Feb. 22. Whitaker, 38, was convicted of capital murder for conspiring to kill his brother and parents in December of 2003. He had arranged for his family to go out to dinner. When they returned home, a gunman was set up in their house. Chris Brashear shot and killed Whitaker's mother and brother; his father, Kent, was shot in the chest but survived. Fort Bend County prosecutors secured a life sentence for Brashear but sought the death penalty for Whitaker, who they said concocted the plan to collect on a seven-figure inheritance – a figure Kent Whitaker maintains was sharply exaggerated and beside the point; his son had been suffering from mental illness.

Whitaker has lived a relatively consequential life in the last five years on death row. In 2013, he filed a joint lawsuit with Michael Yowell and Perry Williams that questioned the purity of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's then-current stock of pentobarbital (the state's execution drug of choice). The case was originally dismissed for Whitaker and Williams because neither had been issued an execution warrant at the time. (Yowell was also unsuccessful, and executed with the state's first known dosage of compounded pentobarbital.) But in 2015, the Attorney General's Office agreed the state should retest Whitaker and Williams' doses shortly before their executions. The next summer, Williams saw his execution date withdrawn after the state failed to procure test results on his dosage (or that's what the TDCJ told the general public). Meanwhile, Whitaker's case is currently pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices are set to conference on Feb. 23, one day after his scheduled execution. Whitaker will request a stay to allow the justices time to conference.

Whitaker is currently represented in those efforts by Maurie Levin, and on clemency by James Rytting and Austin attorney Keith Hampton. In January, Hampton and Rytting filed a request with Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Par­dons and Paroles on the specific grounds that Kent Whitaker never wanted his son to be executed (indeed, he lobbied for a life sentence at trial) and would not be brought any form of closure, healing, or justice through his surviving son's execution.

Texas has already killed three people this year, including William Rayford and John Battaglia over the past three weeks. Whitaker would be the fourth. There are two more inmates on the Huntsville calendar at this time: Rosendo Rodriguez III on March 27 and Erick Davila on April 25.

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