Texas Executes Karla Faye Tucker
Feb. 04, 1998
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ As the world agonized about redemption and justice-by-execution, Karla Faye Tucker went to her death with a quiet apology and talk of heaven. She never closed her eyes.
Her journey from drug-addicted prostitute to born-again Christian drew support from death penalty opponents across the globe. But it couldn't keep the 38-year-old killer of two from becoming the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War, and the first in the nation since 1984.
As weeping mixed with gleeful singing among several hundred demonstrators outside the death house, Ms. Tucker was placed on a gurney, her long dark hair stark against the white sheets. Leather belts were pulled snug across her body, legs and arms. She wore a prison-issue white shirt and pants and white running shoes.
Ms. Tucker turned her head to the victims' relatives witnessing the execution and apologized.
``I hope God will give you peace with this,'' she said.
She then turned to the witnesses she had invited, including her husband and sister. Smiling, she declared her love for them:
``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, whose wife was one of those killed by Ms. Tucker in 1983, addressed his wife as he witnessed the execution: ``Here she comes, baby doll. She's all yours. The world's a better place.''
Just before the lethal chemicals were injected, she closed her eyes briefly and mouthed a prayer.
As the chemicals entered her body, Ms. Tucker gasped twice and let out a long wheeze before lapsing into unconsciousness. Her dark eyes remained nearly wide open; her mouth was slightly open. She was declared dead at 6:45 p.m.
Thornton said later he couldn't accept Ms. Tucker's apology.
``My religion says to forgive. Turn a cheek. I still cannot do it,'' he said. ``I don't believe her conversion. I don't believe her Christianity.
``(She) has been sent to the place that we're all going to go sometime, someplace my wife already is. She will deal with Karla Faye Tucker. I promise you, it won't be pretty.''
The Board of Pardons and Parole had refused to recommend commuting Ms. Tucker's sentence to life in prison, and Gov. George W. Bush refused to grant a 30-day reprieve. Her death came less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected her final appeal.
People on both sides of the case, and Ms. Tucker herself, said gender should have no bearing on her punishment.
But the oddity of a woman being executed _ a pretty one at that, and one whose weapon was a pickax _ prompted hundreds of reporters and photographers to descend on Huntsville, 80 miles north of Houston. Five members of the media witnessed the execution, including Associated Press Houston Correspondent Michael Graczyk.
Nationally, since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume, 431 men and now two women have been executed. Counting Ms. Tucker, 145 have died 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 for the ax murder of a horse trader during a robbery. The nation's last execution of a woman was in 1984, when Velma Barfield, also a born-again Christian, was put to death in North Carolina for lacing her boyfriend's food with rat poison.
Ms. Tucker had portrayed herself as someone who had been rehabilitated and wanted a life sentence so she could help others behind bars. Pleas for mercy came from Pope John Paul II and TV evangelist Pat Robertson, who emphasized her religious conversion.
``This thing is vengeance,'' said Robertson, normally a death penalty supporter. ``It makes no sense. This is not the same woman who committed those crimes.''
Skeptics, including some of the more than 400 men on Texas's death row, noted that condemned men had had similar conversions.
``Why not Michael Lockhart?'' asked inmate Jim Beathard recently, referring to a convicted police killer executed Dec. 9 with no public outcry. Lockhart wore a cross, toted a Bible and recited verses by memory.
Bush has let 57 condemned men go to their deaths without commuting or delaying a death sentence since taking office three years ago. The parole board has refused all 77 requests from condemned inmates since 1993.
``I have concluded judgment about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to a higher authority,'' Bush said.
Ms. Tucker and a companion, Daniel Garrett, were convicted of killing Jerry Lynn Dean, 27, and Deborah Thornton, 32, on June 13, 1983.
They had gone to Dean's Houston apartment after three days of almost nonstop drug-taking, aiming to steal motorcycle parts. Ms. Tucker had disliked Dean because he had once gotten her living room rug dirty and had destroyed pictures of Ms. Tucker's late mother. They didn't know Mrs. Thornton, whom Dean had picked up at a party.
Once at the apartment, Garrett beat Dean with a hammer, and the injured man began making a gurgling sound. Ms. Tucker testified she began hitting Dean with a 15-pound pickax because ``I just wanted to make the noise stop.'' Then Ms. Tucker discovered and attacked Mrs. Thornton, who had been cowering under bedclothes. Ms. Tucker told friends she experienced a sexual thrill each time she swung the ax.
Garrett was sentenced to death, but died in prison in 1993 of liver disease.
While Thornton had vigorously pushed for the execution, Ron Carlson, Mrs. Thornton's brother, was opposed.
``She was a perfect example of how rehabilitation in the penal system is supposed to work. And what did they do?'' he asked. ``They executed her.''