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After father's plea, Texas board recommends clemency for death row inmate

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Death row inmate Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, convicted of hatching a plot that left his mother and brother dead and his father with a gun wound to the chest, received a unanimous clemency recommendation on Tuesday after his father pleaded for his life.

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Whitaker’s father Kent Whitaker broke down in tears when he heard that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles gave what amounted to its first clemency recommendation to come primarily at the request of a victim’s forgiving family.

“Victim’s rights should mean something in this state even when the victim is asking for mercy and not vengeance,” Kent Whitaker later told a news conference.

Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, will make the final decision on whether to dispense a life sentence and halt the scheduled execution by lethal injection planned for Thursday.

Whitaker was put on death row after being convicted of masterminding the deadly 2003 plot near Houston that left his mother Tricia, 51, and brother Kevin, 19, dead.

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.

In the clemency petition, he recalled lying in his hospital bed and facing the choice of slipping into despair or offering his son forgiveness. He said his faith led him to the latter option.

Kent Whitaker said his son has been a model inmate and has provided letters from death row prison guards to back him up. According to the clemency petition, Kent Whitaker, his relatives and his wife’s family do not want Texas to execute Bart.

Money may have motivated Bart Whitaker to plan to murder his family with the help of two other men, court documents showed. One of those men, his roommate Chris Brashear, shot the father, mother and brother after the family returned from a dinner out.

He shot Bart in the bicep to make it look he had also been attacked. The two other men helped prosecutors pin the crime on Whitaker and were not sentenced to death. Neither co-defendant received 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.

“Legally, justice says that he should be executed,” Fred Felcman, first assistant district attorney for the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office said in an interview last week.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by David Gregorio