Sugar Land, Texas, is an idyllic, upper-class suburb 40 minutes southwest of Houston. But in December 2003, the quiet community was shattered when a family of four was ambushed by an armed intruder as they entered their home.
Today, Sugar Land native Bart Whitaker is on death row in Texas, convicted of capital murder and sentenced to lethal injection for masterminding a plot to murder his parents and brother. And he came very close to getting away with it.
"I wanted them dead," Whitaker, 29, told ABC News. "It was my idea."
By all accounts, Bart Whitaker and his younger brother, Kevin, were as close as two brothers could be. Bart and his father shared a passion for distance bicycling, and the family went on vacations to places like Cancun, Mexico. To outsiders, there seemed to be a lot of love in the family.
The evening of Dec. 10, 2003, began with a special announcement at the Whitaker residence. Bart Whitaker told Kevin and his parents, Kent and Tricia Whitaker, that he had finished his final exams at nearby Sam Houston State University and would be graduating. To honor his achievement, his parents presented him with a Rolex watch, and that night the family went to a popular restaurant to celebrate.
The family snapped photos over a festive dinner and congratulatory dessert. But secretly, Bart knew that even as he smiled for the camera, an intruder had quietly entered their home and was waiting for their return. If everything went according to his plan, in less than 30 minutes his brother, mother and father would all be dead.
"I don't really know a better term for how I was feeling, other than I was on auto-pilot," he said. "I wasn't even aware of myself."
"We had a wonderful time before dinner and then packing up and driving over to the restaurant, and all the way home," Kent Whitaker said.
When the family arrived home, Bart, knowing what awaited his family inside the house, ran down the driveway, saying he needed to take his cell phone out of his car.
"Kevin opened the door, stepped in, was shot," recalled Kent Whitaker, who survived the attack and still lives in the home. "Tricia ... stepped up to the door, was shot. I looked in the door and was shot."
Bart says he ran into the house and pretended to try and catch the shooter. They wrestled a bit and then Bart was shot in the arm, to make him appear to be a victim.
"It was to distance me from the guilt," he said. "But also I think on an internal level it was me realizing that there was no way that I could come out of this physically unscathed."
A neighbor called 911, and responding officers found 19-year-old Kevin Whitaker dead where he fell, a single bullet in his chest. Tricia Whitaker died of a single gunshot wound soon after being airlifted to the hospital.
Kent Whitaker survived his gunshot to the arm. Also wounded, Bart made a convincing fourth victim.
After clearing the house, police initially thought they were dealing with a burglary gone awry.
"When the dispatcher told me that four people had been shot, I initially thought she was joking with me," said Sugar Land homicide Sgt. Marshall Slot, the lead investigator on the case. "The crime scene that I was investigating was a burglary gone bad, where the victims were shot by the suspect and the suspect fled the scene."