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Washington (AFP) – Brent Whitaker, a Texas man who hired a gunman to kill his entire family, was waiting Thursday for a last-minute reprieve after his father — whom he tried to murder — pleaded for his son’s life.

Whitaker, 38, was one of three men awaiting execution Thursday in three different US states.

The decision on whether to stay the execution, which was planned for 6:00 pm (0000 GMT), rested with the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, after the Texas Pardons and Parole Board made a rare recommendation for clemency on Tuesday.

Kent Whitaker, the condemned prisoner’s father, has been moving heaven and earth for years to try to get mercy for his last surviving family member, whom he forgave from his hospital bed.

Whitaker was sentenced to death for hiring the hitman who killed his mother and brother, and wounded his father in 2003. The gunman also shot Bart in the arm, to provide a cover story for the family slaying. 

Police had originally assumed the shooting had been a botched robbery, although the fact that only Bart Whitaker’s cell phone had been taken raised suspicions.

Bart returned to live with his wounded father for seven months before the truth emerged that it was the son who hired the gunman. 

Kent Whitaker, the father and a devout Christian, said he had initially been “mad at God” after being shot in the thorax by the masked assailant who took the lives of his wife Tricia, 51, and his 19-year-old son Kevin.

“I was wrestling with my faith,” he said. “But God met me in the hospital room on the night of the shootings and helped me arrive at a ‘miracle’ forgiveness for everyone involved,” he said. 

“Long before I ever even suspected that that forgiveness might extend to my own son.”

Now the grieving father says the execution of his last remaining family member would destroy the relationship he has worked hard over the years to rebuild with his son.

“I live with the extent of the loss every day and am aware of how much it has cost me — and am completely aware that all of that loss was the result of decisions made by my son,” he said. 

“But God helped me reach that complete forgiveness and I think He did that to help me rebuild my relationship with my son.”

– Executing a dying man –

Meanwhile, in Alabama, Doyle Hamm is facing execution after spending three decades on death row. He was condemned to death in 1987 for the murder of a motel employee during an armed robbery.

Hamm is already dying of cranial and lymphatic cancer, and his lawyers fear execution by lethal injection would be torture, as he no longer has suitable veins.

However, after a bitter legal battle, a court finally ruled on Tuesday that Hamm’s execution will go ahead, on condition that he is injected in his legs or feet — instead of his arms or hands, as would usually be the case.

Finally, Florida is scheduled to execute Eric Branch, handed a death sentence for murdering a student in 1993.

His lawyers have launched final appeals based on the fact Branch was only 21 years old — and therefore, they say, cognitively comparable to a juvenile — at the time of his conviction, nor was he sentenced to death by a unanimous jury.

Since US executions resumed in 1977, there have been 13 instances of three executions on the same day — most recently on January 7, 2010, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

In recent times, the highest number of executions in a single day occurred on December 9, 1999, when Oklahoma, Indiana, Texas and Virginia all executed a prisoner.

But the highest number ever was on December 6, 1862 in Minnesota, when federal authorities hanged 38 members of the Dakota people, a Native American tribe.        

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