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Texas Executes Karla Faye Tucker

February 4, 1998

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Karla Faye Tucker _ calm, composed and contrite _ went to her death Tuesday wishing that her victims’ families would find some comfort in her execution. ``I hope God will give you peace with this,″ she said in her last words.

Ms. Tucker, 38, whose born-again Christianity sparked a worldwide debate over redemption and retribution on death row, was declared dead by injection at 6:45 p.m. She became the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War, and the first nationwide since 1984.

In her final words, Ms. Tucker expressed love for her family and husband and apologized to the families of the two people she hacked to death with a pickax in Houston in 1983.

``I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. I love all of you very much,″ she said. ``I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you.″

Richard Thornton, husband of victim Deborah Thornton, witnessed the execution and wasn’t swayed by Ms. Tucker’s apology or expression of remorse.

``My religion says to forgive, turn a cheek. I’m not a perfect man. I cannot do it,″ Thornton said. ``I’ve heard her words. I don’t think they are heartfelt. I don’t believe her conversion. I don’t believe her Christianity.″

Other witnesses held hands and cried. ``I love you, Karla,″ said Kari Weeks, Ms. Tucker’s sister.

Outside, hundreds of people and hordes of news reporters waited for word about the execution. When prison officials and witnesses emerged, many cheered.

The execution came less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an 11th-hour appeal and Gov. George W. Bush refused to grant a 30-day reprieve, saying her case had been thoroughly reviewed by appellate courts.

``I have concluded judgment about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to a higher authority,″ Bush said. ``May God bless Karla Faye Tucker and God bless her victims and their families.″

Earlier Tuesday, the Supreme Court had rejected another appeal in which Ms. Tucker had argued that the clemency process in Texas is unconstitutional.

Worldwide publicity over Ms. Tucker’s case, including pleas for mercy from Pope John Paul II and TV evangelist Pat Robertson, focused on her metamorphosis from a drug-crazed teen-age prostitute to a soft-spoken young woman who would be content with a life sentence.

People on both sides of her case, and Ms. Tucker herself, said her sex should have no bearing on her punishment. But the novelty of executing a woman _ there were only 49 among 3,365 death row inmates nationwide as of Jan. 1 _ prompted hundreds of reporters and photographers to descend on Huntsville, where executions in recent years have become almost routine.

Nationally, since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume, 431 men and one woman have been executed _ 144 of them in Texas, by far the most active death penalty state.

The last execution of a woman in Texas was in 1863, when Chipita Rodriguez was hanged from a mesquite tree for the ax murder of a horse trader during a robbery.

Nationwide, the last woman executed was Velma Barfield, a born-again Christian who was put to death in North Carolina in 1984 for lacing her boyfriend’s food with rat poison.

On Monday, the Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Ms. Tucker’s bid, 16-0, to get her sentence commuted to life in prison, just as it denied all 76 requests for clemency made by condemned men since 1993.

Bush, who took office three years ago, has let 59 condemned men go to their deaths without once commuting or delaying a death sentence.

In numerous TV interviews, the 5-foot-3 dark-eyed, dark-haired woman portrayed herself as someone who had been rehabilitated and wanted a life sentence so she could help others behind bars.

Robertson, normally a death penalty supporter, backed her plea for mercy because of her religious fervor. ``This thing is vengeance,″ he said. ``It makes no sense. This is not the same woman who committed those crimes.″

Ms. Tucker and a companion, Daniel Garrett, were convicted of killing Jerry Lynn Dean, 27, and Deborah Thornton, 32, on June 13, 1983, at Dean’s Houston apartment. Ms. Tucker and Garrett had broken in to steal motorcycle parts.

Garrett beat Dean was with a hammer, and Ms. Tucker used the 15-pound pickax to stop Dean from making a gurgling sound. Then Ms. Tucker attacked Mrs. Thornton, who had been hiding under a blanket. Ms. Tucker told friends she experienced a sexual thrill each time she swung the ax.

Garrett also got a death sentence but died in prison in 1993 of liver disease.

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