Violent inmate charged with killing his cellmate

Published on Friday, 31 January 2014 20:26 - Written by From Staff Reports

PALESTINE — An inmate with a violent history, including three counts of murder, has been indicted for strangling a fellow inmate to death.

Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe said Harry Whitaker, 59, was indicted Thursday by a grand jury of capital murder for the 2012 death of  Cresencio Vasquez at the Michael Unit in Tennessee Colony.

Lowe said Vasquez and Whitaker were cellmates at the time of the homicide on June 7, 2012. 

Lowe said he could not talk about the current case in detail but said because Whitaker, originally from Houston, was convicted of three murders in 1977 and one attempted murder so he was charged with capital murder. 

At the time of the homicide, Vasquez, of San Antonio, had been in prison since 2007 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

“The Special Prosecution Unit which prosecutes cases that occur on TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) 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 said. “Having prosecuted death penalty cases before, I know the gravity of what I have to decide.”

The indictment was a re-indictment of one originally returned in October. 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 TDCJ, represents offenders for crimes they are accused of committing while incarcerated at TDCJ units.