Texas Man Who Plotted Murder of Family Is Granted Clemency

With just 30 minutes until he was due to die via lethal injection, Thomas “Bart” Whitaker’s life was spared on Thursday.

The Texas man was to be executed for trying to kill his entire family. The 38-year-old tragically succeeded in murdering his younger brother and mother and severely wounded his father, Kent Whitaker, in the brutal 2003 attack.

In 2007, Bart was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death.

 

On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott commuted Bart’s sentence from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Abbott’s decision followed a unanimous decision for commutation by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

“In just over three years as Governor, I have allowed 30 executions. I have not granted a commutation of a death sentence until now,” Abbott said in a statement explaining his reasoning for granting clemency. “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.”

Kent Whitaker and wife Tanya after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted in favor of clemency

Kent Whitaker and wife Tanya after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted in favor of clemency

Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman/AP

The Governor’s decision was influenced by Bart’s only surviving victim – his father, as Kent had vowed he would one day forgive the person responsible even before he realized his son was to blame.

Gov. Abbott mentioned grieving father Kent’s plea for a life sentence as he announced his clemency decision.

“Mr. Whitaker’s father, who survived the attempt on his life, passionately opposes the execution of his son. Mr. Whitaker’s father insists that he would be victimized again if the state put to death his last remaining immediate family member,” he said in his proclamation.

“Also, Mr. Whitaker voluntarily and forever waived any and all claims to parole in exchange for a commutation of his sentence from death to life without the possibility of parole,” Abbott continued, concluding, “Mr. Whitaker must spend the remainder of his life behind bars as punishment for this heinous crime.”

In a clemency petition, Bart’s attorneys said his deeply religious father begged the district attorney’s office with biblical quotations to seek life in prison for his son and was denied.

“Imagine two people in your family who you love most. Now, imagine one of them murders the other. There must be punishment. But would you prefer execution? What if that person was your only remaining child?” the lawyers wrote as reported by NBC News.

According to the Texas Tribune, the last time the board recommended clemency for a death row inmate was in 2009, and the last time a Texas Governor approved it was in 2007.

The Washington Post reports that the prosecutors of the case — Fort Bend County District Attorney John F. Healey, Jr., and first Assistant District Attorney Fred Felcman — believe Whitaker’s sentence is appropriate for the crime.

“I haven’t met any person aside from Mr. [Kent] Whitaker” who says justice hasn’t been served, Felcman said.

But Kent, who calls himself the “greatest victim in this case,” told CBS News, “You don’t have to convince me how awful this crime was.”

He adds, “I’ve lived it for 14 years now. But that doesn’t mean the death penalty was the right choice in this case.”

The Horrific Night

On December 20, 2003, Whitaker told his father and mother Tricia that he’d just completed his final exams at nearby Sam Houston State University and that he would be graduating, according to ABC News.

To celebrate, the entire family, along with Whitaker’s younger brother, Kevin, 19, went out to a popular restaurant. The family gave Whitaker a Rolex and took photos of the occasion.

“We had a wonderful time before dinner and then packing up and driving over to the restaurant, and all the way home,” Kent told the news outlet.

But that joyous night quickly turned into a nightmare. Later that evening, Kevin and Tricia were both fatally shot by the door, while Kent was wounded.

Whitaker, who had left the home after saying he was going to get his cell phone, returned and then pretended to try to confront the shooter and shot himself in his arm, he told ABC.

After returning from the hospital, where he recovered from a 9mm bullet hole that had struck him six inches from his heart, Kent and Whitaker lived together for nearly seven months. Even when Whitaker became the main suspect, Kent stood by his son.

“He continued to deny it, and the police continued to say he was their suspect,” Kent told The Washington Post. “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.’ ”

Whitaker was eventually arrested in Mexico after investigators discovered he plotted the murders in the hopes of collecting the family’s estate, which was worth more than $1 million.

Whitaker’s friend, Chris Brashear, pleaded guilty to a murder charge and was sentenced to life in prison. His other friend, Steve Champagne, who drove Brashear from the house the night of the shootings, took the plea deal with a 15-year prison sentence in exchange for his testimony against Whitaker.

“I’m 100 percent guilty,” Whitaker testified at his trial in 2007. “I put the plan in motion.”

Kent, who has since remarried, told the Post that “this isn’t just a case of a dad who is ignoring the truth about his son. Believe me, I’m aware of what his choices have cost me.”

Kent has always believed that Whitaker’s sentence wasn’t justified because no one in his family or his late wife’s advocated for his execution.

“I’m honoring their memory,” Kent said about his family. “I know they would not want Bart’s life taken for this. They would be horrified at what’s happening.”

Tim Donaghy Off The Hook In Aggravated Assault Case

Tim Donaghy

Off The Hook In Agg. Assault Case

2/22/2018 3:59 PM PST

EXCLUSIVE

Tim Donaghy ain’t goin’ back to prison … ’cause officials in Florida are NOT filing charges against the ex-NBA ref after allegedly threatening a man with a hammer … TMZ Sports has learned.

We broke the story … Donaghy was arrested on December 19, 2017 and booked for aggravated assault — a 3rd-degree felony. He was facing years in prison.

For his part … Tim claims he was only trying to rescue his daughter … who he believed was doing drugs, and in a dangerous environment. 

Good news for Donaghy … according to a court doc filed earlier today, prosecutors in Manatee County will not file charges … meaning he’s off the hook.

The one catch … the state still has the right to file charges in the future … but that seems unlikely.

Bottom line, Donaghy’s free and clear.

How Ashley I. and Kevin Make Their Relationship Work

After multiple seasons of heartbreak on The Bachelor franchises, things are finally turning around for Ashley Iaconetti.

The Bachelor Winter Games star is currently in a relationship with Kevin Wendt, a former Canadian Bachelorette contestant who competed on the Olympic-themed spin-off show with her.

“When I saw him for the first time at the parade, I was like, ‘That means trouble. He’s hot. I’m probably going to cry, and it’s not going to work out,’” Iaconetti, who has become known for weeping on TV, tells PEOPLE. “I went into the Winter Games just with the intention of hanging out with my friends ,so I had no idea that I’d meet somebody, too. I definitely was like, ‘Foreign guys!’ But Canada, sure.”

Now that filming is over, Wendt says there have been pros and cons.

“The negative is we don’t just get to wake up in the same house and have no responsibilities but to each other — that’s pretty awesome on the show,” Wendt says. “Now it’s fun because we find out about each other and what we want to do.”

He continues: “It’s kind of a relief when you get the TV part over with like, ‘We’re going to Disneyland!’”

Though Wendt is still based in Canada and Iaconetti in Los Angeles, the two make it work by “a lot of FaceTime” and phone calls.

“I’m a caller,” Wendt says, to which Iaconetti adds, “He will call to be like, ‘What’s your location?’ I’m like, ‘Just text me that.’”

While Iaconetti has been open about being a virgin in the past, she says that she’s making that part of her life private now since it involves Wendt.

Ashley I. and Kevin

Ashley I. and Kevin

Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC

“Now there’s somebody else attached to it, so why should I bring him into a storyline that I created for myself?” Iaconetti says. “I was comfortable talking about all that, but he’s a 34 year old man who has been engaged before. He doesn’t need that in the public.”

Wendt agrees: “Whose business is it but ours?”

After winning the first ever Canadian season of The Bachelorette and proposing to Jasmine Lorimer, Wendt says he was “skeptical” about joining Winter Games until he pulled up to the Vermont villa.

“I was nervous that I wasn’t ready to move on and not necessarily start dating but meet someone that I actually truly care about,” he says. “Ben [Higgins] had the experience — it forces you to really look in the mirror of whether you can do it or not. Then I showed up and just kind of made some friends, and Ashley made it easy.”

Iaconetti quips, “Nobody ever said I made anything easy. I am not an easy person.”

Though it seemed like a love triangle was beginning to form early on in the season when Wendt used his date card to ask Bibiana Juliana out, the couple says there was no drama with her when they ended up dating instead.

“If I wouldn’t have won the first event, there wouldn’t have been a love triangle because I wouldn’t have had a date card and I would’ve found out in the house quicker that me and Ashley had something,” Wendt says.

The season finale of The Bachelor Winter Games airs on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Mattis expected to back transgender troops — if they can deploy, official says

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to recommend to President Trump that transgender people can serve in the U.S. military if they can deploy overseas, a U.S. official with knowledge of the secretary’s thinking on the issue told Fox News Thursday.

The official said Mattis did not want to go against recent federal court orders which ruled Trump’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military is unlawful.

FLASHBACK: MATTIS FREEZES TRUMP BAN ON TRANSGENDER TROOPS PENDING REVIEW

Mattis’ expected decision was first reported by The Washington Post.

Officials tell Fox News that Mattis’ thinking has also been shaped by his recently announced policy that any service member unable to deploy with his or her unit for more than 12 months must leave the military.

Mattis has not yet given his recommendation to the president. Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters Thursday the secretary’s recommendation would be given to the president later “this week.”

FLASHBACK: TRUMP ANNOUNCES BAN ON TRANSGENDER INDIVIDUALS SERVING IN MILITARY

The official announcement about transgender policy is expected from the White House no later than March 23, according to officials.  The Pentagon was caught by surprise this past July when Trump tweeted that transgender people were no longer welcome in the military “in any capacity.”

The following month, Trump demanded that military recruitment policy consider transgender as “a disqualifying psychological and physical” condition.

Since then, three federal courts have ruled against the ban and some Senate Republicans — including military veterans Joni Ernst of Iowa and John McCain of Arizona — have voiced their objections. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews

SATC: Jason Lewis Talks Kim Cattrall & Sarah Jessica Parker

Sex and the City‘s Jason Lewis is supporting costar Sarah Jessica Parker after Kim Cattrall directed angry comments at her.

Lewis, who played Cattrall’s on-screen love interest Jerry “Smith” Jerrod on the series and film, sat down with KTLA 5 on Wednesday when he was asked about Cattrall and Parker.

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” Lewis, 46, told KTLA 5’s Sam Rubin.

“I would have to say that Sarah was always just so lovely and such a consummate professional,” Lewis shared. “And I think that people should remember their graciousness and the things that have been given to them. And I’m going to stop there ’cause I got nothing good to say.”

Asked if he was “Team Sarah” or “Team Kim,” Lewis confirmed he “might just have to say yeah” to being on Team Sarah.

Lewis added of Parker, 52: “What a gracious lady. She was always so good to me.”

When Rubin further pressed “and were other people not as good to you?” Lewis said with a laugh: “Sarah was amazing.”

Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock

Last year, after the plug was pulled on a third film, Cattrall, 61, told Piers Morgan that she felt she’d had a “toxic relationship” with Parker and her costars.

But speaking with PEOPLE for her Feb. 26 cover interview, Parker said there is no feud between the pair.

WATCH: Kim Cattrall Tells SJP ‘You Are Not My Friend’ 4 Days After Thanking Costars Following Brother’s Death

“I never talked about it, except [to say] that some of us were disappointed [about the movie not happening],” Parker shared.

“But I never responded to the conversation Kim had with Piers Morgan, where she said things that were really hurtful about me. We had this experience and it was amazing, and nothing will ever be like it,” she said. “We had a connection with an audience, and we had a connection with the city and with this crew, and we got to tell these crazy stories with each other. So I don’t want to mess with that.”

Parker added: “I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing that part. So there was no fight; it was completely fabricated, because I actually never responded. And I won’t, because she needed to say what she needed to say, and that is her privilege.”

Recently, the drama was reignited when Parker expressed private and public condolences after Cattrall’s brother Chris went missing and was found dead. Cattrall went on to publicly blast Parker on Instagram, accusing her of “exploiting our tragedy in order to restore your ‘nice girl’ persona” and telling her “you are not my friend.”

Though Parker is not responding, a source close to her makes clear that “when Kim’s brother went missing, Sarah called and texted Kim privately offering her support. When asked about her brother’s passing on a red carpet, Sarah conveyed again her condolences and love.”

Lamar Odom Gushes Over Ex Khloé Kardashian’s Pregnancy

Things might not have worked out between Lamar Odom and Khloé Kardashian, but the former basketball player has nothing but kind words to say about his ex-wife’s pregnancy.

“To tell you the truth, it couldn’t happen to a better person,” Odom, 38, told Access’ Kit Hoover and guest co-host Scott Evans during a preview of Monday’s episode.

“I was really happy for her,” he continued. “If she could take care of a grown man for four years the way she took care of me, I know she could take care of a baby.”

In fact, Odom thinks the 33-year-old will make sure her first child doesn’t want for anything.

“That’s gonna be one spoiled ass baby,” he added.

RELATED: From ‘Fake-Trying’ to Get Pregnant with her Ex to Offering to be Kim’s Surrogate: Khloé Kardashian’s Long Journey to Motherhood

Even though he couldn’t be happier for his ex, he said he’s felt hurt by some of the Good American designer’s recent comments about their relationship.

During an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians in June of last year, the 33-year-old revealed she had only “fake-tried” to have children with Odom.

“I was married, but I knew the circumstances weren’t the healthiest so I just kept pretending I was doing it,” she said.

“When I was doing my fertility treatments, they were more so for Lamar,” she continued. “I had to stop because there was much deeper stuff that was happening in our marriage.”

Odom said he understood where she was coming from.

“That was hurtful, but I was going through some things at the time, so I didn’t really take it too personally,” he explained.

The former basketball player went on to reveal that when it comes to actually keeping up with the Kardashians, he hasn’t spoken to his former pal Rob Kardashian in a while.

“I miss him a lot to this day,” Odom said, adding that he hasn’t spoken “to him at all” recently.

RELATED: Kim Kardashian Claps Back at Lamar Odom Over His Comment About the End of His Marriage to Khloé

Kim Kardashian West clapped back at her former brother-in-law in January after he made a comment about the end of his marriage to Khloé that rubbed Kim, 7, the wrong way.

“I still got my shawty’s name still on me — I mean, her initials still on me,” he said in a sneak peek of his appearance on BET’s Mancave as he described his tattoo of Khloé’s initials.

“I understand when it’s over, it’s over,” Odom continued, before adding with a smile: “When she was with her second or third NBA ball player, I could see that.”

In a fiery tweet, Kardashian West stood up for her younger sister, when she responded to a Twitter user who posted, “Burn!” about the quote.

Kim tweeted, “Or second or third brothel.”

Khloé and Odom tied the knot on national TV in September 2009. The marriage fell apart after the former basketball player’s cheating scandal and drug relapse, and Kardashian filed for divorce in 2013. In October 2015, Odom was rushed to the hospital after being found unconscious in a Nevada brothel. Near death, he spent four days in a coma, and Khloé rushed to his side and called off their divorce proceedings temporarily. Upon his recovery, Odom completed a 30-day drug rehab program.

Khloé refiled for divorce once Odom recovered from the Nevada incident, and their split was finalized in December 2016.

Odom’s full interview airs Monday, Feb. 26 on Access Live and Access.

Tekashi69’s San Antonio Show Still On Despite Gang Threats

Tekashi69

San Antonio Show Is Going On

Despite Gang Threats

2/22/2018 2:47 PM PST

EXCLUSIVE

Tekashi69 — aka 6ix9ine — isn’t letting a little thing like gang threats or that huge LAX brawl, stop him from taking the stage in San Antonio … TMZ has learned.

6ix9ine is still scheduled to perform at Bar 23 Thursday night … according to a manager there, he is upping security due to a threat from San Antonio’s Tango Orejon gang.

Purported members of the gang posted a Facebook video Sunday, telling 6ix9ine he’s banned from their city and would get “f***** up” if he shows his mug.

The gang threat refers to the charges 6ix9ine pled guilty to in 2015, involving a minor. Prosecutors say he was recorded groping a nude 13-year-old girl. As the gang members put it, “Penitentiary rules are in effect.” 

We’re told the club’s main goal is to keep everyone at the venue safe, and to get 6ix9ine in and out without incident. The manager also tells us they’ve notified local police about the threat. 

As for 6ix9ine … he seems to be going forward with his tour, full steam. He was just in Dallas Wednesday night, and teased his performance in San Antonio.

Gang threats and airport fights be damned … Tekashi is-a-comin’. 

Indiana Police Allegedly Let Drunk Driver Go Before Fatal Crash

The families of an Indiana couple killed by an alleged drunk driver say police spoke to the suspect 90 minutes before the fatal accident — but that they allowed him to drive anyway, according to a tort claim filed against the local police department obtained by PEOPLE.

On Oct. 6, Donald and Angela Kaczmarek were killed after Tron Gorbonosenko allegedly drove his Ford Mustang into the couple’s car, instantly killing them, according the South Bend Tribune. 

Gorbonosenko has been charged with two felony counts of operating a motor vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent of more than 0.15 percent, and two Level 5 felony counts of reckless homicide, the Tribune reports.

Now, the couple’s family alleges in the claim that about 90 minutes before the crash, La Porte police responded to a 911 call regarding Gorbonosenko’s driving and had the opportunity to impound his car.

According to the claim, the officers failed to perform their duties because they knew Gorbonosenko, who works for La Porte County.

The claim details how local police allegedly responded to a 911 call 90 minutes before the couple’s death.

According to an eyewitness, while driving, Gorbonosenko allegedly missed his turn and drove up onto a sidewalk before turning into a nearby parking lot, where he struck a parked car so hard it moved. When Gorbonosenko put his car into reverse, he allegedly hit a telephone pole.

Gorbonosenko allegedly got out of the vehicle and “staggered” into a nearby martial arts school. The witness, who was with a friend, went over to Gorbonosenko’s Mustang and inspected the car, according to the claim. He found grass stuck to the bumper and all down the passenger side, leading him to believe that Gorbonosenko had allegedly driven off the road and into a ditch at one point.

When he walked over to Gorbonosenko, he allegedly smelled alcohol on Gorbonosenko’s breath. At that point, the witness said he called 911.

A La Porte police report from that night confirms the vehicle hit the light post and the parked car and that three police officers responded to the scene.

Tron Gorbonosenko

Tron Gorbonosenko

La Porte County Sheriff’s Office

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According to the witness, two La Porte police officers allegedly approached Gorbonosenko and spoke to him, but they did not perform any sobriety tests or search his vehicle, which according to the claim was later found with empty alcohol bottles inside.

Subsequently, the witness alleged that the officers let him drive.

• For more compelling True Crime coverage, follow our Crime magazine  on Flipboard

The claims estimates the couple’s estates are owed $700,000 in damages; it was sent to nine recipients, including the La Porte City Attorney, and County Council.

PEOPLE’s calls to the La Porte Police Department were not answered Thursday. Messages for La Porte City Attorney Nick Otis and La Porte County Council Attorney Douglas L. Biege were not immediately returned as of press time.

La Porte Police Chief Tom Owens declined to comment when questioned by the La Porte County Herald Argus, stating he was unaware of the allegations.

PEOPLE’s calls to the police department went unanswered Thursday.

Gorbonosenko faces up to 36 years behind bars if convicted, according to the Herald Argus. He is currently out on a $25,000 cash bond, the paper reports.

His attorney could not be reached by PEOPLE Thursday.

Diane Warren Makes an Impassioned Plea for Gun Safety

Diane Warren is standing up for gun safety.

The “Stand Up for Something” songwriter is speaking out in support of the movement to end gun violence, following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14.

“The 17 lives lost in Parkland, Florida, is another senseless tragedy that has devastated all of us,” Warren, 61, says in a new video for the organization Everytown for Gun Safety alongside artist and activist Nzinga Blake.

“Enough is enough. Now is the time for a call to action. Please support the efforts of the organization Everytown for Gun Safety that is working so hard to end gun violence,” she adds, before referencing a set of lyrics from the Oscar-nominated song: “It all means nothing, if you don’t stand up for something. You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.”

RELATED: PEOPLE’s Call to Action: Contact Congress to Ask What Is Being Done to Stop the Epidemic of Gun Violence

Although Warren’s song, which appears in the film Marshall, wasn’t written specifically with gun violence in mind, its message continually inspires her to stand up for what’s important.

“It was always my intention to have the song have a life outside Marshall,” Warren tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I envisioned it as a call to action, much in the spirit of the iconic soul protest songs classics like ‘A Change Is Gonna Come,’ and thankfully it seems to be having that same effect. Whether it’s Everytown, NAACP, CNN Heroes, ACLU, LA Women’s March, and even the NBA All-Star weekend, the song is having an effect. I’m simply so grateful. A song has the power to inspire, motivate and comfort people. I’m honored and appreciative that ‘Stand Up for Something’ is contributing to that.”

She continues, “Now is the time to stand up and make a change. And these students and people all across the country, with their courage and bravery, are doing just that. I feel in my heart that these kids are going to be the ones that make the change. ”

RELATED: Weeping Survivor of Florida School Shooting Confronts President Trump on Gun Control: ‘Please, Please!’

During an interview with Gold Derby on Tuesday, Warren also remarked that “Stand for Something” has been the most important and meaningful song of her career because “not only does it fit this movie, but it really fits our times.”

“Who knew how timely it would be, because every day all our rights are under attack,” Warren said during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in December of last year, as she discussed the importance of the song she and Common wrote together before and after Donald Trump‘s election.

“I hope it makes everybody stand up and not take any of this s—,” she continued, adding that even though times are rough, “as long as we stand up, no one can f— with us.”

To support Everytown for Gun Safety, visit everytown.org or text “ACT” to 644-33.

  • Reporting by SARAH MICHAUD

Atlanta Hawks Should Give Quavo a 10-Day NBA Contract, Says Hawks’ Celeb DJ

Atlanta Hawks’ Celeb DJ

Message to Hawks Honchos:

Give Quavo a 10-Day NBA Contract!!

2/22/2018 2:30 PM PST

EXCLUSIVE

Atlanta Hawks resident DJ Big Tigger is callin’ on his squad to make the biggest pickup of the NBA season — Quavo!!

“I think we should give Quavo a 10-day (deal) — I don’t know if he can play any defense but he can get us a couple buckets,” Big Tigg told TMZ Sports

You’d think the former BET host was joking, but let’s face facts …

— Quavo CRUSHED the NBA All-Star celeb game, winning MVP after Eurosteppin’ on fools like James Harden.

— Quavo’s one of the biggest rap stars in the world right now, especially in his home state, and the Hawks have the lowest attendance in the league.

— The Hawks are also last in the East, so they really got nothing to lose!!

Better move fast … the L.A. Clippers are already trying to swoop on Huncho.