Updated on 21 February 2018.
Executive clemency in death penalty cases is when the governor stops, either temporarily or permanently, the execution of a condemned prisoner. For an explanation of the types of executive clemency and the procedures by which it is granted, see our page on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
This page lists the cases where executive clemency was granted in Texas death penalty cases, or when a clemency recommendation was made by the Board of Pardons and Paroles but subsequently denied by the governor.
Only those clemency actions that involved discretion are included. Clemency actions that were a mandatory response to judicial or legislative requirements - such as when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for prisoners who were juveniles at the time of their offenses - are not included.
The list below is known to be complete from 2000 and later. It may be incomplete prior to 2000.
|Gary Graham||1993||Richards||stay issued||innocence claim|
|Henry Lee Lucas||1998||Bush||commuted to life||false confession|
|Ricky McGinn||6/1/2000||Bush||stay issued||DNA test|
|Jeffery Tucker||9/11/2001||Perry||stay issued||Supreme Court closed because of terrorist attacks|
|Rodolfo Hernandez||3/21/2002||Perry||stay issued||confessed to other murders|
|Robert Smith||3/12/2004||Perry||commuted to life||mental retardation|
|Kelsey Patterson||5/17/2004||Perry||clemency denied|
|Frances Newton||12/1/2004||Perry||reprieve issued||forensics test|
|Doil Lane||3/9/2007||Perry||commuted to life||mental retardation|
|Kenneth Foster||8/30/2007||Perry||commuted to life||convicted with co-defendant in joint trial|
|Robert Thompson||11/18/2009||Perry||clemency denied|
|Thomas Whitaker||2/20/2018||Abbott||commuted to life||plea from surviving victim|
Graham was convicted of the 1981 robbery and murder of Bobby Lambert in a supermarket parking lot. Overall, Graham was linked to 22 crimes that occurred from 13 to 20 May, including Lambert's murder, the shootings of Gary Spiers and Greg Jones, and the rape of Lisa Blackburn. Spiers, Jones, and Blackburn all identified Graham as their assailant. He was convicted of Lambert's murder based on the testimony of an eyewitness, Bernadine Skillern.
Graham pleaded guilty to ten robberies, but said he did not kill Lambert. Graham's case received widespread media attention and was picked up by many death-penalty opponents. In 1993, Governor Ann Richards used her option to grant him a 30-day stay of execution. In all, Graham had eight execution dates. He was ultimately executed on 22 June 2000.
Lucas had a second-degree murder conviction in Michigan for killing his mother. After his release, he drifted to Florida and California before settling in Texas with his 15-year-old niece, Frieda Powell. Both Powell and Kate Rich, an elderly woman who Lucas and Powell worked for, were subsequently murdered in 1983. Lucas was arrested as a suspect in Rich's killing. While in custody, he confessed to hundreds of other killings, including Powell's. In total, 213 previously unsolved murders were cleared as a results of his confessions. He was convicted of 11 murders and sentenced to death for one, the 1979 murder of an unidentified woman dubbed "Orange Socks."
In 1986, journalist Hugh Aynesworth proved that it was physically impossible for Lucas to have been at all of the crime scenes he claimed responsibility for, including the one where Orange Socks was killed. Governor George W. Bush commuted Lucas' death sentence to life in prison in 1998. Lucas died in prison of heart failure in 2001.
McGinn was convicted of the 1993 rape-murder of his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Stephanie Rae Flanary. On 1 June 2000, when McGinn was 18 minutes away from being taken to the death chamber, Governor George W. Bush granted an emergency stay of execution at the request of the state district judge who was presiding over McGinn's case. The reason for the stay was so that DNA evidence from the case could be reexamined using current technology. When the DNA tests came back, they showed a positive match for McGinn. He was executed on 27 September 2000.
Tucker was convicted of the robbery and murder of Wilton Humphreys, 65, on 11 July 1988. Humphreys was killed as he was riding to the bank with Tucker, who answered his classified ad for a pickup truck and travel trailer for sale. Tucker's execution was scheduled for 11 September 2001. That morning, Islamic terrorists attacked the United States. Federal offices, in Washington D.C., including the U.S. Supreme Court, were closed. Governor Rick Perry granted a 30-day stay on 11 September 2001. Tucker was executed on 14 November 2001.
Hernandez was convicted of robbing and killing Victor Cervan, 20. Cervan was one of a group of five Mexican illegal immigrants who were robbed and shot on 7 March 1985. The other four victims survived. A jury convicted Hernandez of capital murder on 25 September and subsequently sentenced him to death. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal on 24 October 1990. On 11 January 2002, an execution date was set for 21 March.
On 19 March, Hernandez told TDCJ officials that he wanted to confess to some other murders that he had committed. San Antonio police detectives interviewed Hernandez that day and the next day. The detectives then went home and matched Hernandez's stories with cases in their homicide archives. Believing that Hernandez still possessed information about these cases that only the killer or an eyewitness would know, the detectives faxed Governor Rick Perry at 5:45 p.m., asking him to grant an emergency stay. Perry granted Hernandez a 30-day stay on 21 March 2002. He was executed on 30 April 2002.
Smith was convicted of shooting a man to death while he was attempting to flee from a store robbery. The victim's name was James Wilcox. A jury convicted Smith of capital murder in January 1992 and sentenced him to death. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal in 1995. His state appeals were exhausted on 21 April 1999.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court banned executing mentally retarded prisoners. On 27 January 2004, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal wrote a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommending clemency on the grounds that Smith was retarded. The board recommended that Smith's sentence be commuted to life in prison. Governor Rick Perry approved the request and commuted Smith's death sentence on 12 March 2004. He was transferred to the general prison population the next day.
Patterson was convicted of murdering Louis Oates, 63, and Dorothy Harris, 41. Oates and Harris were shot at their place of business on 25 September 1992, for no apparent reason. A jury convicted Patterson of capital murder on 1 July 1993 and sentenced him to death. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal on 29 November 1995. His state appeals were exhausted in May 1998. On 16 January 2004, an execution date was set for 18 May.
Patterson's attorneys contended that he was ineligible to be executed, by reason of mental incompetence. On 17 May 2004, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 5-1 to recommend to the governor that Patterson's sentence be commuted. The board also gave the governor the option of granting a reprieve. Governor Rick Perry declined the board's recommendations on 18 May 2004. Patterson was executed that day.
Newton was convicted of killing her husband and two children for life insurance money. The victims were Adrian Newton, 23; Alton Newton, 7; and Farrah Newton, 21 months. They were shot in the family's apartment on 18 March 1987. A jury convicted Frances Newton of capital murder on 24 October 1988 and sentenced her to death the next day. Her conviction was affirmed on direct appeal on 17 June 1992. Her state appeals were exhausted on 6 December 2000. On 27 July 2004, an execution date was set for 1 December 2004. Newton's federal appeals were exhausted on 1 November 2004.
On 30 November, the Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 5-1 to recommend a 120-day reprieve to the governor. Newton and her attorneys claimed that she was innocent and called for new testing of nitrate residue on Newton's clothing and new ballistics testing on a gun that prosecutors said was the murder weapon. Governor Rick Perry approved the request and granted Newton a 120-day reprieve on 1 December 2004. Testing showed that the skirt had been contaminated since the original test, but it confirmed that the pistol was the murder weapon. Newton was executed on 14 September 2005.
Lane was convicted of the 1980 kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Bertha Martinez in San Marcos. Lane confessed to the crime 12 years later in Kansas while being questioned about the kidnapping and murder of a different girl. A Hays County district court found in November 2006 that Lane was mentally retarded and ineligible for execution. On 9 March 2007, Governor Rick Perry approved the parole board's recommendation that Lane's sentence be commuted to life.
On 14 August 1997, Foster and three other men were driving around San Antonio, committing armed robberies. With Foster driving, they pulled into a driveway and got into an argument with two people they had been following. Mauriceo Brown then got out of Foster's car, pointed a gun at Michael LaHood, demanded his money and car keys, and killed him for refusing to comply. He then got back in Foster's car, and the men drove away. Brown and Foster were convicted and sentenced to death in a joint trial. Mauriceo Brown was executed on 19 July 2006.
On 30 August 2007, the day Foster was scheduled to be executed, Governor Rick Perry accepted the parole board's recommendation that Foster's sentence be commuted to life. While most of the legal and media attention in Foster's case had centered on the fact that he was not the shooter, Perry explained that he commuted Foster's sentence because of the joint trial.
Thompson was convicted of the 1996 robbery and murder of convenience store clerk Mansor Rahim in Houston. Thompson and another man, Sammy Butler, entered the store together, both carrying guns. While Thompson fired several non-fatal shots at Rahim and another clerk, Butler was the one who actually fired the fatal shot. In his confession, however, Thompson did state that the pair had committed two other robbery-murders in the past 24 hours, and he fired the fatal shot in both of those crimes. Butler was convicted of capital murder and given a life sentence; in a separate trial, Thompson was sentenced to death.
On 18 November 2009, the day before his scheduled execution, the parole board voted 5-2 to recommend that Thompson's sentenced be commuted to life. Governor Rick Perry rejected the recommendation, however, and Thompson was executed.
Whitaker was convicted of hiring the murders of his mother and brother for an insurance payout in 2003. He and his family members were shot as they returned to his parent's home in Sugar Land after dining out. The gunman, Chris Brashear, shot Thomas Whitaker, 23, in the shoulder to avoid suspicion. Patricia Whitaker, 53, and Kevin Whitaker, 19, died. His father, Kent Whitaker, 56, was also supposed to have been killed, but he survived. Thomas Whitaker did not contest his guilt, but the legal team hired by his father tried to obtain a life sentence for him. The prosecutor asked for a death sentence, and the jury gave it.
On 20 February 2018, the parole board unanimously granted a request, at Kent Whitaker's urging, to request Governor Greg Abbott to commute Whitaker's sentence to life. Abbott granted the request two days later - the date Whitaker would have been executed - citing the fact that the shooter was not sentenced to death, the plea from Kent Whitaker, Thomas Whitaker's permanent waiver of claims to parole, and the parole board's unanimous recommendation.
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