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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Texas: Judge sets execution date for man who had family killed for $1 million inheritance

Thomas Whitaker
A Sugar Land man convicted in a murder-for-hire scheme to off his own family in hopes of snagging a plump $1 million inheritance is now slated for execution early next year, according to court papers filed this month. 

A Fort Bend County judge on Wednesday signed the papers that could send Thomas Whitaker, who used the cover of a faked burglary to mask the murder of his mother and brother, to the Huntsville death chamber on Feb. 22.

"This is a case in which retributive justice plays no part," attorney James Rytting said late Monday. "The victim in this case is a father who does not want his child to die. It seems that this case shows that the only victim's right that counts is the right of vengeance - you don't have a right to mercy."

Just after a 2003 celebratory dinner marking his supposed graduation from Sam Houston State University - a milestone that never happened - Whitaker arranged for two friends to wait at the family home for a burglary set-up.

When the family of four returned home from the restaurant, a gunman opened fire as they walked through the door, killing 51-year-old Patricia Whitaker and 19-year-old Kevin. Only Whitaker's father survived the attack. 

Afterward, as police probed the killings, Whitaker stole $10,000 from his father and fled to Mexico.

When authorities picked him up 15 months later, his father hired an attorney to argue against the capital case. 

The pair of slayings came after three years of planning and at least one previous murder attempt, according to court papers. 

Triggerman Chris Brashear pleaded guilty to murder a decade ago and took a life sentence, while the getaway driver - Steve Champagne - agreed to a 15-year plea deal.

But a Fort Bend jury settled on a death sentence for the mastermind behind the plot, and after more than a decade of legal battles, the condemned man lost out in the Supreme Court last month. 

He does not have any pending appeals, Rytting said. 

Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey declined to comment. 

Source: chron.com, Keri Blakinger, November 6, 2017


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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