The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

January 31, 2014

TDCJ Inmate indicted for capital murder

District attorney to decide whether to seek death penalty

By MARY RAINWATER
Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — An Anderson County Grand Jury indicted Texas Department of Criminal Justice offender Harry Whitaker on Thursday for the offense of Capital Murder in the 2012 slaying of fellow inmate Cresencio Vasquez at the Michael Unit in Tennessee Colony.

According to Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe, the charge alleges that Whitaker, 59, strangled Vasquez, his cellmate at the time, to death on June 7, 2012.

Texas law allows Capital Murder to be charged in the case because Whitaker was in prison for murder.

Whitaker, originally from Houston, is alleged to have been convicted of three murders in 1977 and one attempted murder. At the time of the alleged murder, Vasquez, from San Antonio had been in prison since 2007 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

It’s up to Lowe to decide whether the State of Texas will seek the death penalty against Whitaker.

“The Special Prosecution Unit which prosecutes cases that occur on TDCJ units will assist me in the prosecution of the case,” Lowe said. “But, the final decision on whether to seek the death penalty rests with me.

“And, while I’m not allowed to talk about the specific facts of this case, I want everyone to know that the death penalty is an option in these kinds of cases,” Lowe added.

If a defendant is found guilty of Capital Murder and the state seeks the death penalty, the punishment options the jury would decide are limited to life without parole or the death penalty.

“I am mindful that death penalty prosecutions are time-consuming and very expensive,” Lowe said. “However, if an offender has murdered to get into prison and now he has murdered in prison, then there is a real danger to our friends and family that work at TDCJ.

“We are looking at our options,” he added. “Having prosecuted death penalty cases before, I know the gravity of what I have to decide.”

Today’s indictment was a re-indictment of one originally returned in October of last year. The case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General, Texas Department of Criminal Justice. OIG Investigator Mark Owens was the lead investigator in the case.

The State Counsel for Offenders, a division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, represents offenders for crimes they are accused of committing while incarcerated at TDCJ units.