HUNTSVILLE - The life of a Texas man who conspired to kill his family in 2003 was spared minutes before he was set to be executed on Thursday.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott decided to reduce Thomas Whitaker's sentence to life in prison without parole, the governor said in a statement.
It's the first time Abbott spared the life of an inmate on death row and the first time in years that a governor reduced the sentence of a death row inmate.
Abbott has allowed 30 executions during his time as Texas governor, his office said.
Whitaker was convicted of capital murder in connection to the 2003 killings of his mom and brother. Authorities say Whitaker and another man attacked his family as they returned to their suburban Houston home from dinner.
During the ambush, Whitaker's mother and brother were killed. His father survived after receiving a gunshot to the chest, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The record indicates the other man shot the victims. Unlike, Whitaker, he did not receive the death penalty.
Officials say the younger Whitaker conspired to kill his family members so that he would receive a presumed hefty inheritance.
"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 governor said.
The inmate's father, Kent Whitaker, has "passionately" opposed the execution of his son, recently he asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend a change on his sentence.
"Mr. Whitaker's father insists that he would be victimized again if the state put to death his last remaining immediate family member," Abbott said.
Following Thursday's decision, Kent Whitaker told reporters he was grateful for Abbott's decision.
"I want to thank the governor for doing the hard work to review this unusual case and give it the extra special time it took to reach a good decision. He did make the right decision and we are very grateful for that," the inmate's father said.
Whitaker, who was in the death chamber's holding cell Thursday, said he was thankful for the decision, not for himself but for his dad, according to Jason Clark, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
"Whatever punishment I might have received or will receive will be just. I deserve any punishment for my crimes, but my Dad did nothing wrong. The system worked for him today, and I will do my best to uphold my end of the bargain," he said in a statement released by Clark.
Whitaker's father said he hopes one day to make a visit.
"One of the blessings that is going to come from this, for me, is that as time goes by, perhaps he will earn the privilege of having an open visit where I'll be able to hug him, shake his hand," said Kent Whitaker. "That hasn't happened since June of 2004. So, I'm really looking forward to that."