Former Baylor student faces execution

By Didi Martinez | Digital Managing Editor

A former Baylor student is set to be executed on Thursday after being convicted in a murder-for-hire scheme against his own family.

The 38-year-old convict, Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, was sentenced to death after it was revealed that he had planned a staged burglary that would leave his family dead and enable him to receive a $1.5 million inheritance, according to court documents.

The December 2003 murder took place after the family was returning to their Sugar Land home from a dinner celebrating Bart Whitaker’s graduation from Sam Houston State University — the school he had transferred to after attending Baylor University in 2001. Later it was revealed he had never actually graduated. It was at the house that two of Bart Whitaker’s friends, Chris Brashear and Steve Champagne, staged the robbery and Brashear opened fire, killing Bart Whitaker’s 53-year-old mother, Patricia Whitaker, and 19-year-old brother, Kevin Whitaker. Bart Whitaker was wounded as was his father, Kent Whitaker, who had survived the attack.

Recently, Kent Whitaker made a last-minute plea for his son’s life before the state through a clemency petition citing the lighter sentences given to Brashear, who was the gunman in the attack and sentenced to life in prison, and Champagne, who was the getaway driver and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“Somewhere in the calculus of whether to recommend clemency in this case, this Board should consider the circumstances of the death sentence,” Bart Whitaker’s attorney Keith Hampton argued in the petition. “Every member of Kent Whitaker’s family and every member of Patricia Whitaker’s family have been forced to undergo the long and gut-wrenching odyssey of a capital murder case through state and federal courts since March 2007. They all supported or accepted a life sentence.”

However, last week the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals turned down the father’s plea.

“I have seen enough death — I don’t want to see any more,” Kent Whitaker told the Houston Chronicle. “I’m going to have the last living member of my direct family taken from me by the State of Texas in the name of justice, and I just don’t want that.”

As the date approaches, Bart Whitaker’s representatives are making yet another last-ditch effort to halt the execution through a cert petition, which would force the court to issue another death warrant 90 days from the day it was filed, Hampton told the Lariat.

“I think they stood a pretty good chance of having the Supreme Court saying, ‘Yeah, we’ll give you another day,” Hampton said. He expected to know by today if Bart Whitaker is going to be executed on the 22nd.

Although Hampton said the likelihood that the petition will be granted is “very high,” he is less confident that Bart Whitaker will ultimately be able to avoid capital punishment.

“They are going to file a motion in the district court and it’s a long shot,” Hampton said. “So yeah, the odds are very low that he is going to avoid execution.”

Bart Whitaker would be the fourth person executed by Texas this year. The Supreme Court is set to look at the state’s lethal injection practices on Friday — a litigation process that Bart Whitaker is also a part of.


Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story referred to Bart Whitaker as a “suspect”, this has since been changed to “convict.”