The 48 Hours episode “Sugar Land: Life or Death” investigates the life of Thomas Bartlett “Bart” Whitaker, who hired two hit men to murder his family in their home in affluent Sugar Land, Texas. On December 20, 2003, Bart went out to dinner with his brother Kevin Whitaker, 19, and parents, Kent Whitaker and Tricia Whitaker, 51. When they returned to the family home, Kevin opened the front door and was shot dead. His mother, who was right behind him, was also shot. Kent and Bart followed them inside the house and were also shot. Kent and Bart recovered from their wounds. Tricia was pronounced dead at the hospital. Detectives at the crime scene knew it was not a random act of violence, “these people were assassinated.”
Bart Whitaker confessed and told a psychiatrist, “I wanted them dead.” The psychiatrist testified at his murder trial and referred to Bart as “an empty human being.” The investigation and murder trial revealed that Bart had committed burglaries during high school and was diagnosed as having symptoms of a delusional (paranoid) disorder.” A 2009 psychological evaluation of Bart noted as a teen he was given “more of the unearned trappings of wealth (luxury vehicles, townhouse, Rolex) while his thoughts became even more disorganized.” During the trial, a $80,000 trust fund from his grandparents was brought up, although Bart testified in court that he did not know he had access to it.
Bart Whitaker was sentenced to death and was scheduled for execution on February 22, 2018. With 45 minutes remaining to his execution hour, Governor Greg Abbott had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment without parole thanks to the advocacy of Kent, who said the execution of his son, his last remaining immediate family member, would make him a victim again. (Kent tells his story in the book Murder By Family.)
It was the first time Governor Abbott has commuted a death sentence for an inmate. The man who pulled the trigger, Chris Brashear, received a life sentence in a plea bargain, and the accomplice, Steven Champagne, testified in exchange for a 15-year sentence. 48 Hours airs Saturdays at 10 pm on CBS. [NOTE: Stream any CBS show through Amazon Prime or CBS ALL-ACCESS. Both options offer free trials.]