The Bible has quite a lot to say on revenge. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Yet, a dark path though revenge may be, we are all drawn to the glamour of the concept. Even you dear reader, are anxious to read on and learn what revenge this story has in store.
This may be a tale about revenge, but it is also one about justice. It involves a brutal crime and the crisis of faith the survivor of the crime went through in order to see that true justice might be done…
The Whitaker family had been sitting down to dinner on December 10th. Patricia, Kent, Bart, and Kevin were all huddled around the dining room table when the doorbell rang. Kevin jumped up and opened the door to reveal a man in a ski mask. Seconds later, shots rang out and the next thing Kent knew, he was waking up in the ICU, with no clue that the pain in his chest was about to get much, much worse.
It was close to Christmas time and Kent was in a bad way. Kent’s life had been torn asunder in recent days. Not only was he lying in a hospital bed, his chest bandaged, an IV in his arm, a 9mm bullet hole six inches from his heart, but after 28 years of wedded bliss he was also now a widower and one of his children was dead…
Kent, up until a few days earlier, had been the proud father of two college-age boys, Bart and Kevin. Bart was recovering from his gunshot wound but Kevin, who had rushed to the door to open it, had been killed by one shot to the chest. Kent was always a man of faith, but at this moment, as he lay there, he was angry at God. How could he have allowed such a thing to happen?
Pain and Faith
All he wanted to do was find out who had killed his loved ones and inflict pain upon them. “All I could feel for this person was an incredibly deep and powerful hatred,” explained Kent. Yet, as the rage eventually subsided, he was reminded of his Bible verses and how much damage hate can do to a clean soul. Still, he didn’t think that this time he could just “turn the other cheek”…
It seemed like a cut-and-dry case of burglary-gone-wrong. Perhaps the burglar in question, who had managed to escape, was interrupted in the middle of the caper and had no choice but to shoot before looting. Still, some things about the shooting gave investigators pause. The burglar had apparently pulled out drawers all over the house, but rather than ransack them, kept their contents neatly organized.
A real burglar, one who actually wanted to steal something from the home, would have been more apt to throw all the contents of the drawers all over in an effort to find the valuables within. The only item that was actually missing from the house was Bart’s cellphone. It was the only clue they had. So the police began piecing the night together…
On the night of the attack, Bart Whitaker had invited his family to gather for dinner because he said he wanted to celebrate his upcoming college graduation. The thing was, Bart hadn’t actually graduated from college. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t even been enrolled in school at all. Neither his parents nor his brother had any idea that he’d been lying the whole time.
For seven months after the shooting, Bart lived at home with his father, the both of them grieving their familial loss together. The police however, had some concerns about Kent living with his son, who they assured was a suspect in the shooting itself. Obviously Kent didn’t believe them. Bart had been shot in the arm too, he had suffered the same loss. Surely though, Bart’s lies did give him some cause to doubt…
Stand by Him
Ultimately though, Kent Whitaker wanted to stand by his son. He wanted to trust him. “I didn’t know who was telling the truth. I told the police, ‘If I see something, I’m going to tell you. But I’m not going to abandon my son. I’m going to stand with him through all of this even if he’s responsible.’ ” It was a difficult situation for any parent and it was about to get more difficult.
The police finally got their “smoking gun” when one of Bart’s former roommates came forward to say that he and Bart had plotted to kill the Whitakers. Eventually, investigators got him to call his accomplice and recorded the convo. Though Bart said nothing specific about the killings, he did agree to pay the roommate $20,000. Before they could get him though, Bart had escaped to Mexico…
On the Lam
While Bart was on the lam in Mexico, police tracked down two of his friends, Christopher Brashear and Steven Champagne. These two men had apparently plotted the crime with Bart and Champagne admitted to being the getaway driver. Meanwhile, the actual killer turned out to be Brashear, who had been the masked man and pulled the trigger. Finally, after months on the run, police tracked down Bart and brought him back to Texas.
It Was Bart
In the spring 2007, Bart Whitaker was convicted of orchestrating the murders of his mother Patricia Whitaker and his 19-year-old brother Kevin. He was not alone in this enterprise, however. How could he be? After all, he too was shot in the attack. The police eventually proved that this too, was simply a way of diverting suspicion away from him. Kent was speechless when he met his son again…
Face to Face
Kent recalled the meeting vividly afterwards. As he looked at his son through the glass, Bart said, “Dad, I don’t know why this happened, but I’m going to do everything I can to make it quick and as painless for everyone as possible.” Bart wanted to plead guilty, to not put his family, his father through anymore than he had to, but the prosecution had other plans.
The prosecutors in charge of the case against Bart Whitaker declined to rule out the death penalty as a potential punishment. By the time the trial was over, Brashear, the actual shooter, received a life prison sentence. Champagne got 15 years. Bart Whitaker was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. Kent Whitaker, however, was not about to let the state kill his son…
By His Side
Even though the jury sentenced his son to death and even though he had plotted to kill his entire family, Kent Whitaker did not want to see justice meted out in that way. He had decided, as he lay in his hospital bed, that he didn’t want vengeance on the man that killed his wife and son: and that didn’t change when he found out his son was the guilty party.
No One Wanted It
Since the trial ended, Kent Whitaker and his remaining family have been petitioning for Bart to receive a commuted sentence of life imprisonment. He still believes his son should be punished, but his forgiveness is what drives the family’s petition against the state. He may not be wrong either, as neither his nor Patricia’s family has pushed for Bart’s execution. In the years since, Thomas has even gone on to establish an online blog with the help of of a member of the Death Row Support Project, detailing his remorse and life after the murders.
Kent believes that the whole decision to pursue the death penalty is nothing more than an overstep by overzealous prosecutors. He also understands that not everyone would be able to relate to his forgiveness. “Believe me, I’m aware of what his choices have cost me.”
Justice to be Served
Obviously the District Attorney’s office has a very different stand on things. District Attorney John F. Healey, Jr., of Fort Bend County believes the punishment is appropriate for the crime, which is nothing less than a grisly murder-for-hire. According to the DA, no one besides Kent Whitaker believes justice will be done until Bart pays the ultimate price…
Mr. Whitaker countered with the idea of victims’ rights. He just wants the state to recognize that victims’ rights, at least in this case, means something. He is a victim and just because his wife and son aren’t here, wouldn’t mean they’d want swift, deadly vengeance. They would want justice.
Despite their best efforts, U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal that alleged Bart’s trial lawyer was deficient and the prosecutors engaged in misconduct by improperly referring to a plea deal that never was reached. On November 1, 2017, Bart’s death warrant was signed, scheduling his execution for February 22, 2018.