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Man on death row one step closer to commuted sentence

The moment Kent Whitaker heard his lawyer say the word, "clemency," he could not help but double over, drop his face into his hands, crying tears of joy and relief. (Photo courtesy of Kent Whitaker)

The moment Kent Whitaker heard his lawyer say the word, "clemency," he could not help but double over, drop his face into his hands, crying tears of joy and relief.

His son, Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, is on death row, awaiting what was supposed to be his execution date this Thursday. Now, he is one step closer to a life in prison sentence.

On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously voted to commute Whitaker's sentence from the death penalty to life in prison.

"I don't think [Bart is] going to believe it. He's not going to believe it," said Kent Whitaker.

Bart Whitaker was convicted in 2008 for plotting the 2003 murders of his family.

During the attack, the gunman shot and killed his mother, Patricia, and younger brother, Kevin. Kent was also shot just inches from his heart, but survived.

The shooter shot Bart, as well, as a diversion.

Despite being a victim, Kent says he and the family pleaded with the district attorney to not pursue the death penalty, and continued fighting for Bart's sentence to be commuted in the decade since his conviction.

"We knew that the odds are, that we would lose this. Honestly, I never contemplated a unanimous decision," Whitaker said.

Whitaker met with the Board of Pardons and Paroles last week, to make one final push to get Bart's sentence overturned.

"They were all so polite and respectful, but they gave nothing away," Whitaker said. "This is Texas, this doesn't happen. I am just so encouraged the system has worked. This was the right thing. This was the right thing to do."

Whitaker says this has been such an emotional day, and he needs to gather himself.

"Anyone ever win the lottery? Honestly I'll have to sort this out," Whitaker said.

The next step in this process is to get Governor Abbott to sign off on this decision.

His office has not contacted Whitaker's lawyer, Keith Hampton.

Hampton says he was told Abbott will give serious consideration after talking with his staff.

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