"My wife and son were murdered by a masked gunman, and my other son and I were left for dead, but survived." Those are the words of Kent Whitaker on his website, detailing the horrific crime that tore his life apart in December 2003. But, he adds, things soon got worse: The son who'd survived, Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, was later arrested and convicted for planning the attack with two friends, and he now awaits a Feb. 22 execution on Texas' death row. The Washington Post documents the elder Whitaker's rage in the hours just after the shootings, which had taken place as the four family members arrived home from a dinner out. As he stewed in his hospital bed, recovering from the bullet that had come within inches of his heart, Whitaker first vowed to "inflict pain" on the shooter, then started thinking on his faith and how God wouldn't want him to go down a path of vengeance.
And so he decided then to forgive, "no matter who was responsible"—a promise made before finding out that Bart, in his early 20s, had helped mastermind the attack. Even though Whitaker and his extended family pleaded with the DA not to pursue the death penalty, prosecutors painted Bart as a sociopath who wanted his parents' money; he was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to die. The case of the now 38-year-old, who's been on good behavior behind bars and is about to earn his master's degree, underscores how victims should be folded into the process of doling out justice, Whitaker says. "This isn't just a case of a dad who is ignoring the truth about his son," he says. "Believe me, I'm aware of what his choices have cost me." The Whitakers have filed a petition with Texas' parole and pardons board to commute Bart's sentence to life in prison.