What Would Drive Young Man to Kill His Family?

Psychiatrist calls convicted murderer Bart Whitaker "an empty human being."

ByABC News
April 28, 2009, 5:33 PM

May 1, 2009— -- Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, an intelligent, well-spoken young man from a devout Christian family, is on death row in Texas, awaiting execution for orchestrating a vicious assault on his entire family. He was convicted of the murders of his mother and brother and sentenced to death.

Throughout his trial for capital murder, Bart, 29, never denied that he had masterminded a plot to kill his family.

"I wanted revenge for being alive, and I blamed [my parents] for that. I blamed them for who I was. Instead of blaming me," he told ABC News' Mary Fulginiti. "I recognize now how wrong I was on all of that. But at the time, I really believed in that. I held them completely at fault for the man that I had become."

In December 2003, when he was 23 years old, Bart hired his roommate to shoot parents Kent and Tricia Whitaker and younger brother Kevin when they returned home from dinner. Tricia and Kevin died during the attack, but Whitaker's father survived. The accomplice shot Bart Whitaker in the arm to make him appear to be a victim.

"It was sort of like a game of chicken between me and the other guys," he said of the plot. "Who flinches, who stops? Even up to the point that the gun went off ... I didn't expect it to happen. It was never a reality for me."

Bart says he had an "idyllic" childhood, but added that he always felt that there was something wrong with him. He said that from a young age he felt as if his parents' affection had to be earned, and he wasn't quite making the cut.

"In order for me to be that person that my parents would love or that they did claim to love, I had to be better than I was," he said. "There was an idealized version of me and then there was me. ... So every time I failed at reaching that goal of mine, I felt like a failure."

Bart says the plan -- which he attempted a number of times -- started as a casual conversation but then progressed into something more sinister.

"I've been painted as this master manipulator ... but the truth is there wasn't a single person in any of the attempts that ever once said, 'Hey, this is a bad idea.' ... We were a bunch of pasty white kids from the suburbs," he said. "You know, this stuff doesn't really happen in the real world. You play at it, but it doesn't really happen."

In the days after the murder, Bart and his father spent time in the hospital together while recovering, and it was then that Kent shared with Bart an incredible revelation: He had decided the only way to pull through the trauma was to forgive the shooter, whomever it might be. But Bart still couldn't bring himself to tell his father the truth about his involvement in the crime.

"Hiding it all from everybody else was sort of like hiding it from myself, also," Bart said. "So it was one of those things that I had to do to get through that day without opening my veins up on the floor."