Texas governor accepts board’s recommendation, spares inmate
Florida executes inmate; US Supreme Court denies late request in Alabama
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday spared the life of a convicted killer shortly before the man’s scheduled execution for masterminding the fatal shootings of his mother and brother.
In sparing the life of Thomas “Bart” Whitaker about an hour before he was scheduled for lethal injection, Abbott accepted the state parole board’s rare clemency recommendation. Whitaker’s father, Kent, also was shot in the 2003 plot at the family’s suburban Houston home but survived and led the effort to save his son from execution. Abbott commuted the sentence to life without parole.
“I’m thankful not for me but for my dad,” Bart Whitaker told prison officials after getting the word. “Any punishment that I would have or will receive is just, but my dad did nothing wrong. The system worked for him today. And I will do my best to uphold my role in the system.”
The seven-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members are appointed by the governor, recommended unanimously Tuesday that Abbott commute the sentence.
In Starke, Fla., authorities say they don’t believe the loud scream that came from the mouth of an inmate as he was being put to death for a 1993 rape and murder was caused by the lethal injection procedure.
Inmate Eric Scott Branch, 47, received the lethal drugs Thursday evening at the Florida State Prison in Starke. Branch was convicted of raping and killing 21-year-old college student Susan Morris in 1993. He screamed and shouted “Murderers!” repeatedly.
Asked whether Branch’s scream could have been caused by the execution drugs, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady said that “there was no indication” of that. She says that conclusion was confirmed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Alabama was preparing to execute an inmate late Thursday for the 1987 killing of a motel clerk after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his last-minute bid to halt the execution because of his health problems.
Doyle Lee Hamm, 61, was to be executed by lethal injection at an Alabama prison. The court ruled about 9 p.m. that the execution could proceed, after delaying it for three hours to consider the final appeals.
Hamm’s attorney argued the inmate’s veins were compromised from cancer, hepatitis C and former drug use and there was a significant risk the injection of large quantities of lethal drugs would blow out his vein during the execution.