Texas spares death row inmate’s life minutes before execution

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.”

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Menendez co-defendant sentenced to 17 years in separate case

Dr. Salomon Melgen, the alleged co-conspirator in the corruption case of Sen. Bob Menendez, was sentenced to 17 years in prison in a separate federal case Thursday.

Melgen had been charged with 76 counts of health care fraud; making false, fictitious and fraudulent claims; and making false statements related to health care. Melgen was eventually convicted on 67 of those counts after a jury trial last year. The Florida-based ophthalmologist had participated in an overbilling scheme to defraud Medicare, according to the statement from the office of US Attorney Benjamin Greenberg of the Southern District of Florida.

“In sentencing Melgen, Judge Kenneth Marra found that the intended fraud loss was over $70 million and the actual fraud loss to Medicare was $42 million. In addition to the term of incarceration, the defendant was ordered to make full restitution to Medicare,” according to the statement. “Losses to other insurance companies and to individual patients will be determined at a future hearing.”

The allegations in this case were a major element of the corruption case involving Menendez, who prosecutors alleged worked to help Melgen work through the dispute with government officials, including speaking with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about Melgen’s dispute.

In January, the Justice Department filed to dismiss its charges against Menendez and Melgen. An 11-week trial last fall resulted in a hung jury. Prosecutors had accused the senator of accepting bribes from Melgen in return for political favors. Both men pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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Amid ‘abject breakdown at all levels’ with shooting, teachers return to school

The Parkland high school where a former student shot and killed 17 people with an assault-type rifle is reopening for teachers Friday as the community grappled with word that the armed officer on campus did nothing to stop the shooter.That failure, plu…

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Trump defies NRA with desire to raise age for buying assault rifles

 The nation should keep assault rifles out of the hands of anyone under 21, President Donald Trump declared Thursday, defying his loyal supporters in the National Rifle Association amid America’s public reckoning over gun violence. He also p…

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Comanche Nation Encouraged to Register to Vote in BIA Secretarial Election

Published February 23, 2018  Bureau of Indian Affairs conducting Secretarial Election through March 21st LAWTON, OKLAHOMA – The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is conducting a Secretarial Election by absentee ballot only regarding three amendments to the constitution of the Comanche Nation.  Eligible voters must register for this election by March 2nd and return their ballots to […]

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