Feb. 20 (UPI) -- For the first time since 2007, the Texas Parole Board on Tuesday recommended clemency for a prisoner on death row who was convicted of murdering his family for inheritance money.
Bart Whitaker, 38, is scheduled to be executed on Thursday for the 2003 slayings. Although the parole board recommended that his sentence be reduced to life in prison, the final decision on Whitaker's fate will be up to Gov. Greg Abbott.
Bart Whitaker's father, Kent Whitaker, was the lone survivor of the attack and has advocated for his son getting a life sentence.
"Victims' rights should mean something in this state, even when the victim is asking for mercy and not vengeance," Kent Whitaker said at a press conference before the parole board announced its recommendation, the Texas Tribune reported.
Kent Whitaker told KHOU-TV that his son has been a model prisoner, is working on a graduate school thesis and received four letter from prison guards who recommended that his life be spared.
In December 2003, Bart Whitaker hired Chris Brashear to kill his family, including his father, mother and 19-year-old brother. To carry out the plot, Bart Whitaker invited his family back to his home after a dinner celebrating his graduation from college -- a story he made up to carry out the plot.
When the family entered the door, Brashear killed Bart Whitaker's mother, Patricia, and his brother, Kevin. The father, Kent Whitaker, survived a shot in the back.
"That night God met me in my hospital bed as I was wrestling with my faith, wondering why this had happened?" Kent Whitaker told KHOU-TV. "And He led me to a choice where I asked him to help me forgive the person, whoever it was."
Bart Whitaker fled to Mexico when he came under suspicion. But authorities caught up to him less than 40 miles away from the Texas border in Monterrey, Mexico, and found guilty of the murders in 2007.
Brashear pleaded guilty in 2007 and received a life sentence.
Fred Felcman, the original prosecutor of the case and now the first assistant district attorney in Fort Bend County, said he was surprised by the parole board's decision to commute Bart Whitaker's death sentence.
"I'm trying to figure out why [the board members] think they should commute this, and why the governor should even give it a second thought," Fecman told the Texas Tribune.
Kent Whitaker said his son "is the last member of my direct family."
"And he's gonna be taken from us by the state of Texas in the name of justice in a way that none of my family wants," he said.