Who Is Thomas Bart Whitaker? Texas Prisoner Who Plotted Family Murder Spared Execution

Thomas "Bart" Whitaker pleased guilty to plotting the 2003 murders of his family Texas Department of Criminal Justice

A Texas inmate who was due to be executed for masterminding the murder of his family has been granted commutation shortly before he was due to be put to death.

Texas Governor Gregg Abbott ruled that Thomas "Bart" Whitaker should instead spend the rest of life in jail for masterminding the murders of his mother Tricia, 51, and brother Kevin, 19, at the the family's suburban home in Houston, Texas, in 2003.

Whitaker's father, Kent, was also injured in the attack by the actual gunman, Chris Brashear. Kent has since spearheaded the campaign to save his son from execution.

The seven-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to commute the sentence. Abbott, a Republican in the U.S. state which carries out the most capital punishments, had a choice to reject or accept the board's vote.

In a statement, Abbott said that this is the first time he has granted commutation of a death sentence in the three years since he took up the role, allowing 30 executions to occur during the same period.

Explaining his decision, Abbott said: "The murders of Mr. Whitaker's mother and brother are reprehensible. The crime deserves severe punishment for the criminals who killed them. The recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and my action on it, ensures Mr. Whitaker will never be released from prison.

"The decision of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is supported by the totality of circumstances in this case. The person who fired the gun that killed the victims did not receive the death penalty, but Mr. Whitaker, who did not fire the gun, did get the death penalty. That factor alone may not warrant commutation for someone like Mr. Whitaker who recruited others to commit murder. Additional factors make the decision more complex."

Abbott added that Bart Whitaker's father, who "passionately opposes" the execution of his son, would be "victimized again" if the state sentenced his last surviving immediate family member to death. Abbott also said he took into account that Bart Whitaker voluntarily waived all claims for parole in exchange for a commutation.

Abbott ruled that Bart Whitaker will now spend the rest of his life in jail for the "heinous crime".

The shooting occurred after Kent and Patricia Whitaker returned home with their sons on December 10, 2003, having been out celebrating Bart Whitaker's college graduation.

Bart Whitaker was eventually arrested in Mexico and accused of arranging the plot to inherite the family estate, which he estimated to be worth more than $1 million.

In 2007, he admitted he was "100 percent guilty" and that he hated his parents and brother at the time.

After receiving the news he has been spared execution, Bart Whitaker told prison officials: "I'm thankful not for me but for my dad," reports the Associated Press.

"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."

Kent Whitaker said he still loves his son despite what occurred, describing him as a changed person. He told AP: "As the greatest victim in this case, you don't have to convince me how awful this crime was."

Gunman Brashear pleaded guilty to murder in 2007 to murder and is currently serving life in prison.