'Murder by Family': Read Shocking Excerpt

Father writes of struggle to forgive son after shocking crime shatters family.

ByABC News
January 19, 2009, 1:05 PM

April 27, 2009— -- 29-year-old Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, an intelligent, well-spoken young man from a model American family, who grew up with loving parents and a brother who adored him, is currently sitting on death row in Texas. Bart Whitaker is awaiting execution for a brutal crime that sent shockwaves through his hometown of Sugar Land, Texas: hatching a plot to kill his entire family.

In December 2003, Whitaker's mother Tricia Whitaker, brother Kevin Whitaker, and father Kent Whitaker were ambushed by a masked gunman as they walked in the front door of their Sugar Land home after a night out. Tricia and Kevin died from their gunshot wounds, but Kent survived. Bart Whitaker was shot as he faked a struggle with the fleeing gunman, and police initially thought he was a victim as well.

But in the following weeks, Bart Whitaker's story began to unravel, and Sugar Land police sgt. Marshall Slot began to see him as less of a victim and more of a suspect. Almost two years later, after a case full of twists and turns that included discoveries of prior unsuccessful murder plots, Bart's escape to Mexico, the confession of a getaway driver and the dredging up of a bag of evidence from the bottom of a lake, police were finally able to arrest Bart Whitaker and charge him with hiring two accomplices to help kill the family.

At his trial in March 2007, prosecutors alleged that although it wasn't Bart Whitaker himself who had pulled the trigger, he was responsible for his mother and brother's vicious murders because he masterminded the plan. The jury agreed, and convicted him of capital murder in connection with Tricia and Kevin Whitaker's deaths. His conviction made Bart eligible for the death penalty, but by this time, his father Kent had reached a conclusion that would surprise many and register as incomprehensible to some: he said he had prayed to God and asked for guidance, and God had told him to forgive. So Kent Whitaker forgave his son, and pleaded with the jury to spare Bart's life.

Both Bart and Kent Whitaker claim that Bart is a changed man, one who realizes he made mistakes, feels remorse and takes responsibility for his actions. But to many, the brutality of the murders combined with a lack of a clear motive suggests that Bart Whitaker isn't a repentant, but a cold-blooded murderer, a sociopath who deserves nothing less than a death sentence.

The shocking story is detailed in Kent Whitaker's book, "Murder by Family: The Incredible True Story of a Son's Treachery and a Father's Forgiveness." The following excerpt was provided by the publisher to ABC News.

Watch the story Friday on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET

I had always heard that your life flashed before your eyes. But that's not what happened as I lay on the cold concrete that December night, watching the blood from a gunshot wound cover my white shirt. Instead, I found myself praying for my family. There had been four shots, one for each of us.

I told God that if it was my time, I was ready to die, but I prayed that he would spare my wife and two sons. I called to each of them but got no response except for a few quiet, wet coughs from my wife, Tricia. Although I couldn't see her from where I had fallen, I knew that it was her because when I had first tried to get up, I saw her blond hair splayed out on the threshold of our home's front door. Though I had never heard that kind of cough before, I instinctively knew it was the sound of a person trying to clear lungs filling with blood. The silence coming from the dark house was horrible. My God, I thought, he's shot us all.

Life can change in a moment. Just seconds earlier we had been a happy family of four returning from a surprise dinner celebrating our older son Bart's anticipated college graduation. He had called that afternoon, telling Tricia that he was through with exams and was coming home for the evening. We had enjoyed a great seafood dinner, including a dessert with "Congratulations!" written with chocolate syrup on the plate's edge. I snapped a few pictures, and then we took the short drive home. How strange that those would be the last photos we would ever have together.

As we got out of the car, our younger son, Kevin, a sophomore in college, led the way to our front door. He stepped inside, with Tricia right behind him. I heard a huge noise, but I didn't immediately recognize it as a gunshot. A moment of silence, and then Tricia exclaimed, "Oh, no!" as another shot was fired. I still didn't understand what was happening. I stepped forward and for the first time saw inside the house. The light from the front porch illuminated a ski-masked figure about eight feet away, standing next to the stairs. I couldn't see Kevin, though he was lying in the shadows next to where the man was standing -- or Tricia, who must have been right by my feet. I just stood there wondering which one of Kevin's goofball friends was playing a joke on us with the paintball gun.

Suddenly I was slammed in the shoulder with enough force to send me spinning back and to my left. Landing faceup on the front porch, I still didn't grasp what was happening. As I tried to get up, I felt a searing pain in my right arm and realized it was badly broken. A fourth shot rang out as comprehension flooded in. We had been shot. We had all been shot. It struck me that I might be dying.

Then my neighbor Cliff was kneeling over me, comforting me. "Don't worry, buddy! Help is on the way!"

In the distance I heard sirens as Cliff pulled off his T-shirt and pressed it to my wound. I realized then that no one knew where the shooter was and that Cliff might be in danger. I panicked. "Get out of here! He may still be inside!"

Cliff told me to hold on and ran home. Moments later a squad car pulled up in front of our house, and then another, and a third. I was aware of more sirens, including the deep foghorn of a fire truck, but they were still far away. With heightened senses I heard muffled footfalls as police ran into and around the house, guns drawn and flashlights flicking illumination into the shadows. After only a minute or two someone called out that the house was clear. By then the whole cul-de-sac that faced our home was full of emergency vehicles. It couldn't have been more than five minutes since the shootings.

People were everywhere. Neighbors were streaming out of their homes while paramedics swarmed. Two men worked on me, cutting away my leather jacket and my shirt, trying to stop the bleeding. I repeatedly asked for information on my family, and finally one of the paramedics quietly said, "Sir, please, let us do our job. You're in good hands, and lots of good folks are with the rest of your family."

Then, over all the confusion and noise, as they hurried inside the house, I heard one policeman ask another, "What do you want to do about the DOA?"

My heart froze. Dead on arrival. I knew that at least one of my family members had died. But which one? And why? Were they all dead?

The sound of a helicopter cut through the night, and I saw the landing lights and then the cherry-red body of Life Flight. Three paramedics raced a gurney down the sidewalk, and one of the police officers told me that they were taking Tricia to the hospital. My heart leaped with joy, because that meant she was still alive. Thank God! But then I realized that this also meant that at least one, and by now perhaps both, of my boys were dead. I began to shake all over and knew I was going into shock. I chattered to the paramedics that I was freezing and that they had better get something to cover me. They replied that as soon as Tricia's took off, a second Life Flight would land for me.