5th murderer executed in U.S. in 1998
437th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
2nd female murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in Texas in 1998
145th murderer executed in Texas since 1976
1st female murderer executed in Texas since 1976
Between 2:30 and 4:30 a.m. on June 13, 1983, Tucker, Danny Garrett, and
James Leibrant left Tucker's residence after some "partying."
Tucker told accomplice Leibrant she wanted to go over to Jerry Lynn
Dean's apartment to collect some money and intimidate him a little.
Tucker secretly took the keys from Dean's wife, Shawn. Two weeks before,
Tucker had talked about "offing" Dean.
Tucker later related that when she and Garrett entered the apartment
bedroom, she put a pickax to Dean's head and Dean began begging for his
life. Tucker struck him with the pickax 28 times, and expressed that
every time she struck Dean she received sexual gratification.
Deborah Thornton was hiding under some sheets in the bedroom, and
because the lights were on and Dean had said Tucker's name several
times, Tucker and Garrett decided to kill her as well.
Leibrant testified that, after he was called into the apartment by
Garrett, he heard a gurgling noise in the bedroom, walked back to the
bedroom, and witnessed Tucker pull the pickax out of a body, smile, and
hit it again. Leibrant then left the scene, but later helped Garrett
dispose of Dean's car later that evening.
The bodies were discovered by a co-worker who came to check up on Dean
when he did not show up for work that morning. The pickax was found
lodged in the chest of Deborah Thornton.
Tucker's execution created a media frenzy which included nightly reports
from Geraldo, an interview on CNN Larry King Live, and live nationwide
coverage from the prison at her execution. Her outgoing personality and
religious conversion on death row even prompted televangelist Pat
Robertson to request a commutation.
She was the first woman to be executed in Texas since 1863, and only the
second woman to be executed in the United States since the reinstatement
of the death penalty in 1976.
Texas Attorney General Press
Tuesday, February 3, 1998
Fact Sheet on Karla Faye
Texas Attorney General Dan Morales offers the
following information on Karla Faye Tucker, who is scheduled to be
executed after 6 p.m. Tuesday, February 3, 1998:
The state's evidence at the guilt and innocence phase
established that Tucker murdered Jerry Lynn Dean during the commission
of the offense of burglary of a habitation. The evidence revealed the
Between 2:30 and 4:30 a.m. on June 13, 1983, Tucker,
Danny Garrett, and James Leibrant left Tucker's residence after some "partying"
which included the ingestion of pills, marijuana, speed, and alcohol.
Tucker was "pretty well on her way" (intoxicated due to the use of
alcohol and drugs), but could walk, talk, and carry on a conversation.
Tucker told accomplice Leibrant she wanted to go over
to Jerry Lynn Dean's apartment to collect some money and intimidate him
a little. They talked about taking some things if Dean wouldn't pay the
money, specifically a motorcycle, a TV, and a stereo. Tucker got the
keys to the apartment from Dean's wife, Shawn, secretly taking them but
convincing Shawn that they were lost. Tucker had also talked about "offing"
Dean about two weeks before the offense.
Tucker later related to her sister Kari Dean Garrett
[hereinafter referred to as Kari] that when she and Garrett entered the
apartment bedroom, she put a pickax to Dean's head and "told him not to
move, m______ucker, or you're dead." Dean began begging for his life,
and Tucker started to strike him with the pickax. Tucker expressed that
every time she struck Dean she received sexual gratification. There was
a girl hiding under some sheets in the bedroom, and because the lights
were on and Dean had said Tucker's name several times, Tucker and
Garrett decided to kill her as well.
Leibrant testified that, after he was called into the
apartment by Garrett, he heard a gurgling noise in the bedroom, walked
back to the bedroom, and witnessed Tucker pull the pickax out of a body,
smile, and hit it again.
Leibrant then left the scene and walked for about an
hour before he called Ronnie Burrell to come pick him up. Both Garrett
and Tucker were angry with him for leaving the scene, but to make amends
he helped Garrett dispose of Dean's El Camino later that evening.
Leibrant was not offered any deals for his accomplice testimony except
that the judge hearing his cases would be made aware of his cooperation.
The morning after the incident, Tucker showed up at
the home of Douglas McAndrew Garrett, (hereinafter referred to as Doug),
Garrett's brother, at approximately 6:30 a.m. in a blue El Camino.
unloading a motorcycle frame from the back of the El Camino, she said, "We
offed Jerry Dean last night." She told him that Garrett had hit him with
a hammer but she had picked him, receiving sexual gratification with
She handed him Dean's wallet which Doug immediately burned
in an ashtray. Although Doug insisted that they remove the motorcycle
parts from his garage at that time, he later allowed his brother to
store some of the parts with him.
He disposed of the parts before going
to the police, but led the police to them at a later date. Doug
subsequently called J.C. Mosier, a family friend who was a detective in
the homicide division, and gave him Leibrant's name. Doug later assisted
the police in obtaining a taped conversation of Tucker and Garrett
discussing the murders.
The bodies were discovered by a co-worker of Dean's,
Gregory Scott Traver, the morning of June 13 after Dean did not arrive
to drive Traver to work. Traver found Dean's body in the spare bedroom
along with the body of a girl with a pickax "in her heart." Traver also
noticed that Dean's motorcycle was missing and the television had been
On the evening of the June 13, Tucker and Garrett
were watching television when the news came on with a story about the
murders. Tucker and Garrett laughed and giggled and said they were
famous. Leibrant was called into the house so he could watch the news
report as well.
Examination of the bodies revealed that Dean had been
struck in the head and had several stab wounds. There were a total of 28
stab wounds, 20 of which could have been fatal, along with the fatal
Dean's female companion, Deborah Ruth Thorton, also died
from multiple stab wounds to the chest and stab wounds and blunt trauma
to the back. A pickax like the one recovered at the scene could have
caused the wounds that killed both of the decedents.
Tucker was indicted in Harris County, Texas, for the
murder of Jerry Lynn Dean, while in the course of committing and
attempting to commit robbery. After Tucker entered a plea of not guilty
in the 180th District Court, the jury found her guilty of capital murder
on April 19, 1984.
On April 25, after a separate hearing on the issue of
punishment, the jury answered affirmatively the special issues submitted
pursuant to the former provisions of Article 37.071 of the Texas Code of
Criminal Procedure (repealed effective September 1, 1991). In accordance
with state law, the trial court sentenced Tucker to death by lethal
On June 29, the 180th District Court overruled
Tucker's motion for a new trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
affirmed the conviction and sentence upon direct appeal. Tucker v. State,
771 S.W.2d 523 (Tex.Crim.App. 1988).
Tucker's motion for rehearing was denied on January
11, 1989, but the Court of Criminal Appeals stayed issuance of the
mandate until April 11, 1989. Tucker's petition for writ of certiorari
in the U.S. Supreme Court was denied along with her application for stay
of mandate on June 26, 1989. The mandate of the Court of Criminal
Appeals was issued on July 6, 1989.
Tucker filed an application for state habeas relief
on December 15, 1989, and she filed an amended petition on January 24,
1992. On April 29, 1992, the convicting court entered findings of fact
and conclusions of law, and on May 29, 1992, it set Tucker's execution
date for June 30, 1992. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of
execution on June 22, 1992, pending an evidentiary hearing on three of
Tucker's claims. On January 27, 1995, the Court of Criminal Appeals
denied relief based on the findings and conclusions of the trial court,
which it found to be supported by the record. Ex parte Tucker,
Application no. 21,159-01 (Tex.Crim.App. Jan. 27, 1995).
Tucker's original federal habeas petition was filed
on August 1, 1995, and she was given 60 days in which to file an amended
petition. No amended petition was filed and the Director responded to
the original habeas petition on February 5, 1996, with a motion for
summary judgment and answer with brief in support thereof. Tucker filed
a traverse and opposition to summary judgment on April 15, 1996. On July
31, 1996, the district court granted the Director's motion for summary
judgment and entered its final order denying relief. Tucker's motion to
amend judgment was denied on December 20, 1996. On January 17, Tucker
filed a notice of appeal and application for a certificate of probable
cause (CPC), which was denied by the district court on January 24, 1997.
Tucker filed an application for certificate of
appealability and supporting memorandum on March 17, 1997. On June 3,
1997, without requiring a response from the state, the court of appeals
issued an opinion order denying the application. This initial opinion,
however, relied in part on the amended habeas standards effected by the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), and the
Court in Lindh v. Murphy, 117 S.Ct. 2059 (1997), subsequently concluded
that the amended standards would not apply to cases such as Tucker's
that were pending at the time of the AEDPA's enactment. As a consequence,
the court of appeals treated Tucker's suggestion for rehearing en banc
as a petition for panel rehearing, withdrew its prior opinion, and
issued an opinion denying a certificate of "appealability" or CPC under
the pre-AEDPA standards. Tucker v. Scott, 115 F.3d at 278. The Court
denied certiorari on December 8, 1997. Tucker v. Johnson, 118 S.Ct. 605
On December 18, 1997, the convicting court scheduled
Tucker's execution for February 3, 1998. On January 20, 1998, Tucker
filed a successive state writ application and request for stay of
execution in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Court of Criminal
Appeals dismissed the application as an abuse of the writ pursuant to
Article 11.071 § 5 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Tucker's
petition for writ of certiorari, filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on
January 29, 1998, was denied by the court on February 3, 1998. Tucker's
request for clemency was filed with the Board of Pardons and Paroles on
January 22, 1998, and was denied on February 2, 1998. Also on February
2, 1998, Tucker filed a 21 U.S.C. §1983 action and request for stay of
execution in federal district court and a motion for leave to file a
successive federal habeas petition in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of
Appeals. The request for stay was denied in the federal district court
case, and the 5th Circuit action was also denied. On February 3, 1998,
Tucker filed a third writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, which
is still pending.
PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY
Tucker had no prior convictions. However, the state
did present evidence at the punishment phase concerning Tucker's prior
violent acts, which included a previous altercation with Dean during
which she punched him in the face while he had glasses on, forcing him
to go to the hospital to have glass removed from his eye. Tucker also
admitted a history of drug use and prostitution.
DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL
Evidence indicated that Tucker had ingested various
drugs and alcohol immediately prior to commission of the instant offense.
Tucker Dies After Apologizing
Despite Legal Blitz,
Woman Executed for Pickax Slayings
By Kathy Walt - Houston Chronicle
February 3, 1998
HUNTSVILLE -- Karla Faye Tucker, the 38-year-old
pickax murderer who charmed television audiences worldwide with her
coquettish smile and talk of Jesus, was executed Tuesday despite an all-out
legal blitz to spare her life.
Apologizing to the family members of her
victims, Tucker smiled and told her friends and relatives, "I love all
of you very much. I'm going to be face to face with Jesus now." With a
needle of solution in each arm, she gasped twice slightly as the lethal
drugs took effect, then she groaned. "I love you, Karla," her sister,
Kari Tucker Weeks, cried out.
Tucker, who confessed her guilt in the slayings of a
man and woman in Houston 15 years ago, was pronounced dead at 6:45 p.m.,
some eight minutes after the drugs began flowing through her veins.
She was the first woman to be executed in Texas since
1863 and only the second nationally since 1984. She also was the first
Texas prisoner to be executed this year.
Tucker went to her death in a frenzy of media
coverage, with an estimated 200 reporters from around the world posted
outside the state prison system's Walls Unit in downtown Huntsville.
A few hundred capital punishment abolitionists stood vigil in protest
while death penalty advocates sparred verbally with them. It was in the
final months leading up to her death that Tucker achieved the fame she
once told her ex-husband was her destiny. "She always said that someday
she would be famous," Stephen Griffith told the Houston Chronicle on
Griffith, who was married to Tucker for six years, did not
attend her execution. Although Tucker had pleaded to Gov. George W. Bush
and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles for mercy, she had also
maintained that her gender should not be an issue in deciding clemency.
She said she had become a born-again Christian shortly after her arrest
Among those witnessing her death was Richard "Tony"
Thornton, the husband of victim Deborah Thornton, who had been angrily
outspoken about his desire to see Tucker executed. "Make no mistake,
this is not Karla Faye Tucker's day," he said prior to the execution. "This
is Deborah Ruth Davis Thornton's day."
He was accompanied in the witness
room to the execution chamber by his daughter, Katheryn Thornton, and
William Joseph Davis, Deborah Thornton's son from a previous marriage.
State prison officials said they were not contacted by any relatives of
Jerry Lynn Dean, Tucker's other victim, so no witnesses representing his
family were present. "Here she comes, baby doll. She's all yours,"
Thornton said as Tucker's injection began. "The world's a better place."
Sitting in a wheelchair, the disabled Thornton was at
eye level with Tucker, lying strapped to the gurney. At one point,
Thornton referred to Tucker's current husband, a prison minister and car
dealer, and remarked, "So now Dana Brown gets to write his book."
was among Tucker's personal witnesses, along with her sister, Kari Weeks;
her lead attorney George "Mac" Secrest of Houston; friend Jackie Oncken,
wife of Henry Oncken who had been one of Tucker's court-appointed
attorneys before later becoming a U.S. attorney in Houston; and Ronald
Carlson, the brother of Deborah Thornton, who had been outspoken in
opposing Tucker's execution because of her purported religious
Brown, who married Tucker three years ago, said he
had not decided where she will be buried. Her body was taken to an
undisclosed funeral home. "Her gain today was our loss," he said after
her death, "someone that literally reached thousands of people for Jesus
Christ and probably will continue through her testimony.
Even though she
cried out for forgiveness, God gave her just what she needed. That was
love. "We've all made mistakes in our lives. Who are we to say when a
person is past redemption? And that's what we're saying when we kill
people, human beings."
The final roadblocks to Tucker's execution were
cleared about 6:20 p.m. when Bush rejected her plea for a 30-day delay.
His decision was not unexpected. "Karla Faye Tucker has acknowledged she
is guilty of a horrible crime. She was convicted and sentenced by a jury
of her peers," Bush said, reading a statement at the Capitol. "The role
of the state is to enforce our laws and to make sure all individuals are
treated fairly under those laws. The courts, including the United States
Supreme Court, have reviewed the legal issues in this case, and
therefore, I will not grant a 30-day delay. "May God bless Karla Faye
Tucker and may God bless her victims and their families."
Earlier in the
day, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected three challenges to Tucker's death
sentence under criminal and federal civil rights laws. There was no
dissent and no comment by the justices. In addition, the 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans turned away her attorneys'
efforts to start another round of federal challenges.
State courts also
rejected her contention that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
violated the state's Open Meetings Act by not holding a public hearing
or public vote in her clemency appeal.
Portrayed by some as the prodigal daughter who
finally found peace and redemption in a Harris County Jail cell shortly
after her arrest, Tucker and her lawyers for the past several weeks
waged a massive legal and international public relations appeal for
Long a self-admitted ham who had always enjoyed mugging for a
camera -- even during her wild days as a drug-abusing, motorcycle-riding,
hot-headed prostitute -- Tucker, her crime and her punishment have
become the conundrum in the debate over capital punishment.
While her crime still ranks as one of the grisliest
in Houston history, her supporters insisted that her Christian rebirth
and her efforts to reach beyond her barred prison cell to warn
youngsters of the dangers of her former lifestyle were proof she was no
longer a danger to society.
But those who insisted she should die have
maintained that no matter the sometimes-angelic smiling face and
twinkling eyes, no amount of changed personality could overcome the
horrific facts of her crime.
Tucker and her then-lover Daniel Garrett were
condemned by a Houston jury in 1984 for the June 1983 slaying of Dean, a
27-year-old former cable installer. Dean was hacked more than 20 times
with one of his own tools -- a 3-foot-long pickax -- as he lay sleeping
in his northeast Houston apartment.
The motive, Tucker later explained, was to settle a
grudge she had against Dean for once parking his leaking motorcycle in
her living room and for destroying the only picture she had of herself
with her mother.
Also killed was Deborah Thornton, 32, an office
worker who had fought with her husband and stormed off, only to meet
Dean at a party and go home with him. She was lying in bed with Dean
when Tucker and Garrett showed up and began their attack. Thornton was
hacked more than 20 times, the pickax left embedded in her chest, but
neither Dean nor Garrett was ever tried specifically in Thornton's death.
Tucker, who was a 23-year-old divorcee, would later
claim that she experienced sexual pleasure every time she plunged the
heavy ax into her victims.
Garrett, 37, also was sentenced to die for the crime,
but he died of liver disease in 1993 while awaiting retrial in
connection with Dean's death. Tucker testified against Garrett at his
trial, and after she did so, Harris County authorities dropped the
second murder charge against her in connection with Thornton's slaying.
Although she pleaded not guilty, once she was
convicted, she never again denied the murders, which she said occurred
after a weekend of bingeing on drugs and alcohol. Although she claimed
her mother introduced her to drugs and urged her into prostitution, she
had said, at least in recent weeks, that she no longer blames her mother.
Indeed, in her letter pleading to Bush to spare her life, she said, "Justice
and law demand my life for the two innocent lives I brutally murdered
that night." "If my execution is the only thing, the final act that can
fulfill the demand for restitution and justice," she wrote, "then I
Texas Executes Tucker
By Rebecca Leung - ABCNews.go.com
February 3, 1998
Karla Faye Tucker was executed by lethal injection
tonight, gasping and coughing twice before she was pronounced dead at
6:45 p.m. Before she was executed, she smiled, asked forgiveness from
her victim’s husband and thanked her family, saying “I love you all very
much.” It took her eight minutes to die.
Gov. George W. Bush refused to grant Tucker a one-time
temporary reprieve, something he has also not done for the 59 men
executed during his three years in office. “Like many touched by this
case, I have sought guidance through prayer. I have concluded judgment
about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to
a higher authority,” Bush said.
Since the death penalty was reinstated
in 1976, 432 people have been executed nationwide—Tucker is the second
woman to be put to death since then.
Case Attracted Worldwide Following
Hundreds gathered outside the prison to protest the
execution, carrying signs reading “Execution Is Not the Solution” and “I
Oppose the Death Penalty.” Death penalty supporters also showed up,
cheering when word came that the execution would proceed. “Karla Faye
Tucker will die today,” said Richard Thornton, the husband of one of the
victims. “My family and I are very happy about that.”
When the news
reached the crowd that Tucker had been executed, a cheer rose from death
penalty advocates as some sang “Na Na Na Na...Say Goodbye.” Lisa Jackson,
who opposes the death penalty and traveled from Michigan, was
disheartened by the boisterous reaction. “I think God is sovereign,” she
said. “He gives life and he takes life.”
The Supreme Court turned down a
stay of execution this afternoon, and the Texas parole board also
rejected efforts to save Tucker, whose clemency request raised hard
questions about the treatment of women and men in the justice system.
First Female Execution Since 1863
Tucker was flown Monday from the female death row at
a prison in Gatesville to Huntsville, 80 miles north of Houston, where
the state’s executions are carried out. The Texas Board of Pardons and
Parole was lobbied by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, Amnesty
International and even the pope, who wanted to give her a life sentence
The board unanimously rejected 16 similar requests last
year. Texas, which is responsible for about a third of the executions
nationwide, put to death a record 37 death row inmates in 1997. But the
state hasn’t executed a woman since the Civil War, when Chipita
Rodriguez was hanged for killing a horse trader.
Strange Bedfellows Rally to Her Cause
In 1983, Tucker and her boyfriend, Daniel Ryan
Garrett, plunged a pickax at least 20 times into the bodies of Jerry
Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton.
Tucker was taped saying the killings
enthralled her to the point of sexual ecstasy. Tucker never claimed to
be innocent, but said she should be spared the death penalty because she
embraced Christianity and was content to spend her life in prison doing
God’s work. “Certainly you can’t say that brutally murdering two people
is good. It’s not,” said Tucker to ABCNEWS’ Dean Reynolds. “But
afterwards, what came from that in me was good.”
Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and
usually a supporter of the death penalty, said the 38-year-old former
teenage prostitute, drug user and rock band groupie should be spared to
continue preaching God’s word to others in prison.
program, The 700 Club, broadcast Tucker’s last prison-cell interview
today. “There should always be a place for mercy,” said Tucker in her
final interview on The 700 Club. “Life is precious, and if we believe
life is precious in abortion, or in mercy killing, shouldn’t we believe
life is precious in the death penalty?” Pope John Paul appealed for a
“humanitarian gesture,” as he has at least a half dozen times for other
inmates on death row in America. Her cause also attracted support from
around the world, with appeals for clemency from the United Nations and
the European Parliament.
A Plea for Mercy
Dismissed as an “aberration of the true female
offender” by women’s rights organizations such as the National Center
for Women in Prison, Tucker has nevertheless become a potent symbol of
how the death penalty is applied across gender lines. But given the
recent history of the Texas parole board, even a single vote from the
18-member panel in favor of clemency for a condemned murderer would be
According to parole board chairman Victor Rodriguez, the board
voted 16-0 against commutation in Tucker’s case. “There is no question
as to their vote.…I myself have no quarrel with the decision to deny
Karla Faye Tucker’s request on all fronts this morning,” Rodriguez told
a packed news conference in Texas on Monday.
Gender Brought More Attention
Interviews with Tucker have been broadcast on
television nationwide, bringing much attention to her plea for mercy.
During the 12 months ending June 30, 1997, the number of women under the
jurisdiction of state and federal prison authorities grew from 73,565 to
Women accounted for 6.4 percent of all prisoners nationwide.
“Her gender has made this case more prominent, more closely examined. It
has made her more personal, more of a human being to the public,” said
Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a
Washington-based advocacy group. “Thinking of this person as a flesh-and-blood
human being, a face, a person, has given us reasons why we should think
twice of executing her.”
However, some say that if Tucker were a man
instead of a woman, she would never get such sympathy. “For years,
women’s groups have been screaming equal rights, so if you do the crime,
you deserve equal punishment,” said Janice Sager, founder of Texans for
Equal Justice, a Houston-based victims support group that held a
memorial service outside the prison gates. “She should be accountable.
It doesn’t matter if she is a woman. Her victims won’t get a second
Equal Punishment for Equal Crime
Similar claims of conversions by male prisoners,
however, have often been disregarded as a right to clemency. “There have
been other men who have also had very sincere religious experiences, and
that has not availed them anything when it came time to carry out the
sentence,” said Lynn Hecht Schafran, a lawyer with the NOW Legal Defense
and Education Fund. “You can’t just do it because she is a woman.”
But David Dow, professor of law at the University of
Houston, says that race and gender are important factors in Tucker’s
case. “Of the people who have been executed since 1982, half have found
religion, half are either black or Hispanic, and most of them are men.
But most of them don’t have the advantage of being physically attractive
or articulate as she is, which hurts their case, ” said Dow, who has
written on Tucker and the death penalty. “Tucker’s supporters made an
exception for her because they saw her as a human being. The question we
should be asking ourselves is why so many people saw Tucker’s humanity
but refuse to see it in so many others.” (The Associated Press
contributed to this report)
Execution May Haunt Texas
Tucker Case Llikely to
Bring Unprecedented Scrutiny
By Kathy Walt - Houston Chronicle
December 14, 1997
Conjure the image: An attractive,
38-year-old woman is strapped to a gurney in Texas' execution chamber,
her dark, shoulder-length curls splayed across the antiseptic white
sheet that covers the hard, cold deathbed. Her charcoal-colored eyes are
transfixed ethereally while she utters her final entreaty to the God who
she says miraculously transformed her in jail.
As a lethal cocktail
pumps through her veins, she may involuntarily arch upward -- straining
against the leather straps -- and gasp or cough a couple of times before
her final breath is expelled in a matter of seconds.
That, critics contend, is an image that will haunt
Texans if Karla Faye Tucker, a condemned killer from Houston, is
executed early next year.
Contrast that mental portrait of Tucker with the one
that state's attorneys, victims' rights groups and others say should be
replayed in people's minds: A wild-eyed, 23-year-old prostitute -- after
a weekend orgy of methadone, heroin, Dilaudid, Valium, Placidyls, Somas,
Wygesics, Percodan, Mandrax, marijuana, rum and tequila -- smiles
maniacally at 27-year-old Jerry Lynn Dean. It ticked her off that he
once parked his oil-leaking motorcycle in her living room.
She takes her
first swing with a pickax. Flesh tears. Blood spurts. Bones crack as the
3-foot-long tool thuds first against Dean and later against his
companion, 32-year-old Deborah Thornton. By the time the screams end,
Tucker and her accomplice will have hacked their victims more than 20
The June 1983 murder was one of the grisliest in Houston history,
and Tucker could well become the first woman to be executed in Texas
since the 1860s. Her accomplice, Daniel Ryan Garrett, also was sentenced
to die for his part in the crime. His case was sent back for retrial on
appeal, but he died of liver disease in 1993 while waiting for a new
trial, still behind bars.
In a state with the most active execution chamber in
the nation -- 37 death sentences have been carried out this year alone
and 144 since 1982 -- Tucker's case is likely to bring unprecedented
scrutiny on Texas and, at least temporarily, refuel the debate over
capital punishment. Already, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
has been besieged by requests from media around the world wanting to
interview the woman who once bragged to her sister that she was sexually
gratified each time she axed her victims.
Death penalty opponents, religious leaders and
thousands of other people -- mostly outside Texas -- are expected to
mount an intense campaign in the coming weeks to try to persuade Gov.
George W. Bush to commute Tucker's sentence to life imprisonment.
Democrat Garry Mauro -- who is challenging Bush's re-election bid --
said he's glad he does not have to face the issue. "Watching Governor
Bush wrestle with that decision, that's the only thing I can think of
right now, the only reason I can think of right now that I'm glad I'm
not governor," Mauro said. "I do not know what I would do. It's a tough
issue. I wish him well on coming to a resolution on it."
Televangelist Pat Robertson told 60 Minutes in a
recent interview that Tucker has his support and that if Bush "lets this
sweet woman of God die, he's a man who shows no mercy." But that
sentiment is not necessarily shared by conservative Christians in Texas.
Texas Christian Coalition President Dick Weinhold said he not only
personally disagrees with Robertson but knows of no organized effort to
spare Tucker's life. "This case has two main themes," Weinhold said. "One
is compassion, and one is consequences. "I have a lot of compassion for
Karla Faye Tucker. She seems to have strong testimony. Her salvation and
conversion seem to be ... very genuine. And her life seems to really
have undergone a transformation. So I'm delighted. That is great. "The
consequences are that she committed a heinous act. There were two
individuals that were murdered. The consequences of her crime call for
her death. I don't believe the compassion side should overrule the
consequences in this case." "As a Christian, I'm always excited when
other people come to Christ, whether it's in a jailhouse or on Wall
Street. But I think there's still consequences for our actions.
Dudley Sharp of the Houston-based victims' rights
group Justice for All said he expects "religious leaders from all over
the world -- not just the pope -- will be putting pressure on the
governor" to spare Tucker's life.
For clues about how the coming weeks might play in
Texas, rewind to North Carolina, 1984. It was there that "Death Row
Granny" Margie Velma Barfield, a born-again Christian who was
posthumously praised by Billy Graham for her impact on other prisoners,
became the first woman to be put to death in the modern era of the
The portly, bespectacled 52-year-old private nurse
and former Sunday school teacher was convicted of lacing her boyfriend's
food with rat poison. She later admitted to poisoning three others,
including her mother. Her case also became a last-minute political issue
in a tough U.S. Senate election in which liberal Democrat Gov. Jim Hunt
challenged Republican incumbent Sen. Jesse Helms.
Political analysts said Hunt was doomed to be hurt
politically regardless of what he did. Had he commuted Barfield's
sentence, he risked alienating his conservative pro-death penalty
constituency. Some analysts said at the time that his refusal to show
compassion toward the woman may have persuaded liberal, anti-death
penalty voters to stay away from the polls.
Joe Freeman Britt, the
former prosecutor who sent Barfield to death row, remembers the pressure
that mounted in North Carolina. "There were all these Velma Barfield
support groups that grew up all around the nation, all over North
Carolina, European countries -- England, France, Finland," Britt
recalled. "Everybody involved in the case got tons of letters every day
about it from all over the world. That then generated a certain
political pressure in the case."
But unlike Tucker's jailhouse conversion, Britt said,
Barfield had always professed to being a God-fearing, church-going woman.
He said Barfield bolstered her image as a devout Christian by asking her
employers -- the families who hired her to care for ailing, elderly
relatives whom she later poisoned -- for Wednesday nights and Sundays
off so she could go to church. Once imprisoned she, too, began leading
Bible studies and counseling troubled female felons. She also uttered a
The image the media portrayed most often was that of a
grandmother kneeling in prayer in prison, Britt added, and some of the
victims' relatives had a difficult time believing she was capable of the
crimes. Britt, however, said he was unfazed by arguments that Barfield
should not be executed because of her Christianity -- a claim of which
he was skeptical. "I probably brought more people to the Lord than Billy
Graham," he said of his work as a prosecutor. "I mean when they go to
prison, they all find the Lord ... I hope it's true. I hope they do that.
And if (Tucker has) had this experience, that's wonderful. It prepares
her better for the judgment under the law."
Although death penalty opponents had predicted a
public outrage if North Carolina proceeded with the execution of
Barfield, Britt said that never materialized. "I think the biggest flap
came from other parts of the country and particularly overseas ... ," he
said. One key difference between Tucker's and Barfield's cases is the
commutation process. While North Carolina law allows its governor wide
discretion in determining whether and when to pardon felons or reduce
their sentences, the Texas Constitution allows a governor to take such
action only if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles first recommends
it. And even if the board does, the governor may still reject a
Additionally, the state constitution allows the governor to
grant a one-time, 30-day delay in an execution. Bush has never granted a
30-day reprieve, but his predecessor, Democrat Ann Richards, did so
Tucker has not yet filed a petition for a reprieve or
commutation with the parole board, but her attorney said he plans to ask
the governor to commute her sentence. A Jan. 30 execution date has
informally been targeted, attorney George "Mac" Secrest of Houston, said
he plans to ask Bush to commute his client's sentence.
In interviews with the Chronicle last week, several
of the 18 parole board members indicate Tucker will have a tough time
convincing them that her death sentence should not be carried out. "It
is definitely an uphill challenge," said board member Gerald Garrett,
who works in the board's Gatesville office. Any pleas Tucker might make
based on her turning her life over to God apparently will not carry much
weight with some parole board members. Male convicts have raised the
issue before and been rejected. "Religious conversion is not a factor in
anything we do," said Victor Rodriguez, board chairman. "I don't expect
it to be a factor in this case either."
Karla Faye Tucker: Why So Many Want to Save Her
By S.C. Gwynne Austin - Pathfinder.com
January 19, 1998
Karla Faye Tucker is the nicest woman on death row.
She is so nice, in fact, and so well liked by people who know her that
it is virtually impossible to look at this attractive, sweet-natured,
born-again Christian and imagine the gruesome crime to which she
confessed in Houston, Texas, on June 13, 1983.
Back then she was a drug-addicted
prostitute who, during a weekend orgy with her boyfriend, had consumed
an astonishing quantity of heroin, Valium, speed, percodan, mandrax,
marijuana, dilaudid, methadone, tequila and rum. The two then took a
pickax and hacked to death Jerry Lynn Dean, 27, her ex-lover, and
Deborah Thornton, 32, his companion of the moment, while they slept.
Tucker, who left the pickax embedded in Thornton's chest, boasted at her
trial that she had experienced an orgasm with each swing of the ax.
She was convicted in 1984 and sentenced to death.
Fourteen years later, in the state with the busiest execution chamber in
the land, Tucker now finds herself next in line to die. Barring a last-minute
delay or commutation, on Feb. 3 she will be strapped to a gurney in
Huntsville, Texas, and given a lethal injection that will stop her heart.
If that happens, she will become the first woman executed in Texas since
Chipita Rodriguez was hanged in 1863 for killing a horse trader--and the
first woman in the U.S. since Velma ("Death Row Granny") Barfield was
put to death in North Carolina in 1984 for poisoning her boyfriend.
There is no doubt that Tucker is guilty. She says so
herself. What makes her case striking is not just her gender but also
her apparently profound conversion to Christianity. The latter has
prompted an unlikely cohort of supporters to come to her defense at the
11th hour, including Deborah Thornton's brother and Jerry Lynn Dean's
sister, the homicide detective who put her on death row, several former
prosecutors, televangelist Pat Robertson and thousands of citizens.
staunchest supporter is Dana Brown, the prison chaplain she met and
married two years ago--a relationship that has never been consummated,
even by a kiss, because death-row inmates are not allowed contact with
visitors. Says Tucker's attorney, George ("Mac") Secrest: "If ever there
was a case for commutation, this is the one."
Skeptics respond that jailhouse conversions are both
commonplace and not relevant in deciding who receives a pardon. And in
spite of efforts to save her, it seems unlikely that either the Texas
Board of Pardons and Paroles or Governor George W. Bush, who must concur
for a sentence to be commuted, will block her execution. Bush, a law-and-order
Republican facing a re-election campaign this year, would seem to gain
little politically by such a move.
Moreover, there simply are not the
requisite legal questions or doubts about her guilt that might prompt
commutation. Pardon has never been given to anyone in Texas based on
None of which will make it any easier to watch the
pleasant, earnestly friendly Tucker become the 145th person killed since
Texas resumed the death penalty in 1982. She has said repeatedly in
interviews that she is "far removed" from the person who committed the
crime. But she is the person almost certain to die for it.
Two New Stamps Memorialize Tucker
By Eric Berger - Houston Chronicle
March 16, 1998
A group of Texans opposed to the death penalty joined
with a Danish human rights group Monday to release new stamps
commemorating Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman executed in Texas since
The stamps, which cannot be used to mail letters or packages, are
similar in function to Easter Seals. "These two stamps of Karla F.
Tucker have been made in the hope they will remind you of a human being
killed by the state of Texas," said Karen Grue of the Denmark-based
group Living Artists, which designed the stamps.
There are two designs, both featuring the same face
of a smiling Tucker. In one, she appears in front of a prison gurney
similar to the one on which she was executed on Feb. 3 at age 38. On the
other stamp, she appears opposite an American flag with an oil rig in
The stamps, intended to put a human face on those
executed, are being distributed locally by the Texas Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty and overseas by Amnesty International's office
The president of Justice For All, a local victim's
rights group, called the stamps a poorly conceived idea. "Once again,
the victims are disregarded and forgotten," said Dianne Clements. "It is
an insult to the surviving family members, not to mention the
sensibilities of caring individuals, who realize it is twisted and
contemptuous to glorify a murder."
But the anti-death penalty coalition
members said the stamps are not intended to detract from the memory of
victims, but to protest what they call a barbarous process. "This stamp
is a reaction and protest to the death penalty by the people of Europe,"
said David Atwood, coordinator of the Texas coalition.
Richard Thornton, the husband of Tucker's victim,
said, "It is most unfortunate that the artists who were motivated to
produce this work were so horribly misinformed as to the true character
of the person portrayed by them. The work would have been closer to the
truth if it had included a pickax and a great deal of blood."
Texas v. Karla Faye Tucker
Background Report: A
Question of Mercy
Should Karla Faye Tucker die? This was the question
that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. George W. Bush
faced in the weeks leading up to Tucker's execution. However, on
February 3, 1998, Gov. Bush and the Texas Board of Pardons answered that
question when Tucker was executed by lethal injection.
In 1984, Tucker was convicted of the brutal murders
of her ex-lover, Jerry Lynn Dean, and his companion, Deborah Thornton
and sentenced to the death penalty.
During her trial, Tucker admitted
that on June 13, 1983, she and her boyfriend at the time, Daniel Ryan
Garrett, took a pickax and hacked Dean and Thornton to death while they
were sleeping. (Garrett was also convicted of murder and sentenced to
the death penalty. However, he died of liver disease while in prison in
1994.) At the murder scene, investigators found the pickax still
embedded in Thornton's chest.
Tucker even boasted at her trial that she
experienced an orgasm each time she plunged the ax down upon her victims.
Back then, Tucker was a drug addict and prostitute who seemed
unrepentant, and even proud, of her actions.
In various pleas to save her life, Tucker's
supporters and lawyer claimed that Tucker, 38, was not the same woman
who committed those brutal murders nearly 15 years ago. She was a born-again
Christian, and with her "girl-next-door" attractiveness, sometimes it
may seem hard to believe that she could have committed such gruesome
But Tucker and her lawyer, David Botsford, freely admitted her
guilt. Because of her conversion to Christianity, apparent
rehabilitation and virtually spotless disciplinary record while in
prison, Botsford and other supporters believed that Tucker should be
spared the death penalty. Tucker's detractors said that religious
conversions for inmates are common and are not a legitimate basis for a
pardon from the death penalty.
A Plea for Mercy
On January 20, 1997, attorneys for Tucker filed a
petition to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and state district court
in Houston to postpone Tucker's execution so that they could have more
time to challenge the constitutionality of the state's clemency
In the 155-page court document, Tucker's lawyers reportedly
stressed that Tucker was fully rehabilitated and demonstrated during her
14-year imprisonment that she posed no future threat to society. In
seeking a pardon from the death penalty, Tucker asked that her sentence
be reduced to life imprisonment. Under that sentence, Tucker would have
been eligible for parole in 2003.
Reportedly, Tucker's petition was also accompanied by
approximately 200 pages of exhibits supporting her plea. Among the
exhibits was a Tucker wrote to Gov. Bush and members of the Texas Board
of Pardons and Paroles, telling them that her crime was "the most
horrible nightmare of my life" and that she is no longer a threat to
Tucker's Supporters and the Odds Against Her
According to court papers, Tucker and Garrett killed
Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton when they broke into Dean's
apartment to steal motorcycle parts. Garrett was surprised to find Dean
home, asleep in his bed, and proceeded to beat him over the head with a
hammer. Tucker then struck Dean with a three-foot ax more than 20 times
to stop the gurgling sound he was making. Seeing that Thornton was under
the bedsheets next to Dean, Tucker then turned the ax on her.
A pardon from a death sentence in Texas reportedly
has never been granted to anyone based on a religious conversion. And of
the 36 pardons that have been granted to Texas death-row inmates since
1976, not one has been granted solely for humanitarian reasons.
In addition, Gov. Bush, who would have had to approve the pardon with a
majority vote by the parole board, publicly said that in evaluating
Tucker's case, he would only consider whether there was any doubt she
committed the crime and whether she had a fair trial.
Karla Faye Tucker's case attracted a group of
supporters that include Rev. Pat Robertson, the homicide detective who
recommended that she get the death penalty in the first place, thousands
of citizens, and even some support from her victims' siblings.
married a prison chaplain, Dana Brown, two years ago, and he remained by
her side until her execution. Tucker was the first woman executed in the
United States since 1984, coincidentally the year of her conviction.
A Series of Appeals Rejected
Karla Faye Tucker's appeal to halt her execution was
rejected by the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals on January 28, 1998,
less than a week before her scheduled execution. Tucker's lawyers had
argued Texas's procedure for commuting death sentences, claiming that
the law provides no guidelines for parole board members in considering
clemency for death row inmates.
The following week, on February 2, 1998
(the eve of Tucker's scheduled execution), the Texas Board of Pardons
and Paroles, which could have recommend a pardon for Tucker to Gov.
George Bush, rejected her request to have her death sentence changed to
life in prison.
On February 3, Tucker's last chance to avoid the
death penalty lied with the U.S. Supreme Court, which considered her
petition for a stay of the execution. But the Supreme Court denied the
request, clearing the way for Tucker's execution later that day.
Excerpts from Karla Faye Tucker Letter to Governor
January 20, 1998
Though she has not formally filed a request to have
her death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, Karla Faye Tucker has
written Gov. George W. Bush and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
to plead her case. Following are excerpts:
"I am in no way attempting to minimize the brutality
of my crime. It obviously was very, very horrible and I do take full
responsibility for what happened. ... I also know that justice and law
demand my life for the two innocent lives I brutally murdered that
night. If my execution is the only thing, the final act that can fulfill
the demand for restitution and justice, then I accept that. ... I will
pay the price for what I did in any way our law demands it."
"I was advised by my attorneys to plead not guilty
and I was trusting their legal expertise. They knew I murdered Jerry and
Deborah. I did not lie to them about it. ... I am, in fact, guilty. Very
"I used to try and blame my mother because she was my
role model and she fashioned and shaped me into what I was at an early
age. ... At 14 she took me to a place where there was all men and wanted
to `school me' in the art of being a call girl. I wanted to please my
mother so much. I wanted her to be proud of me. So instead of saying no,
I just tried to do what she asked. ... The thing is, deep down inside I
knew that what I was doing was wrong. It may have been the norm for the
crowd I was in, but it was not the norm for decent, upstanding families."
"I no longer try to lay the blame on my mother or on
society." "I don't blame drugs either. When I share that I was out of it
on drugs the night I brutally murdered two people, I fully realize that
I made the choice to do those drugs. Had I chosen not to do drugs, there
would be two people still alive today. But I did choose to do drugs, and
I did lose it, and two people are dead because of me."
"I did not plan on going over there that particular
night to go into that apartment to kill anyone. But that is beside the
point. The fact is, we went there, we went into the apartment, we
brutally murdered two precious people, and we left out of there and even
bragged about what we did for over a month afterward." "It was in
October, three months after I had been locked up, when a ministry came
to the jail and I went to the services, that night accepting Jesus into
my heart. When I did this, the full and overwhelming weight and reality
of what I had done hit me. ... I began crying that night for the first
time in many years, and to this day, tears are a part of my life."
"I also wanted to try and send some money out to one
of my victim's family members (it was for Deborah's son, for his
schooling). ... When Ron Carlson came to me in 1992 and told me he had
forgiven me for what I had done to his sister, I let him know I was
trying to get some money to his nephew. He told me not to ... I would
only be hurting him if I did send the money to him. And he told me that
his nephew would not receive the money from me anyway because he wanted
nothing to do with me. I understand the pain and I did not push."
"Fourteen years ago, I was part of the problem. Now I
am part of the solution. "I have purposed to do right for the last 14
years, not because I am in prison, but because my God demands this of
me. I know right from wrong and I must do right." "I feel that if I were
in here still in the frame of mind I got arrested in, still acting out
and fighting and hurting others and not caring or trying to do good, I
feel sure you would consider that against me. ... I don't really
understand why you can't or won't consider my change for the good in my
"I don't really understand the guidelines for
commutation of death sentences, but I can promise you this: If you
commute my sentence to life, I will continue for the rest of my life in
this earth to reach out to others to make a positive difference in their
lives." "I see people in here in the prison where I am who are here for
horrible crimes, and for lesser crimes, who to this day are still acting
out in violence and hurting others with no concern for another life or
for their own life. I can reach out to these girls and try and help them
change before they walk out of this place and hurt someone else."
"I am seeking you to commute my sentence and allow me
to pay society back by helping others. I can't bring back the lives I
took. But I can, if I am allowed, help save lives. That is the only real
restitution I can give."
Karla Faye Tucker's Original
The letter of the law states that to receive the
death penalty in Texas two requirements must both be met: 1) The crime
was premeditated 2) The criminal is a continuing threat to society
Neither were true of Karla. Since she did not meet either of these
requirements ... they WHY was she executed?
If she had had "due process" and a FULL and FAIR
hearing in the courts on ALL the issues (which she didn't the truth
would have prevailed, and the mitigating evidence around this crime
would have qualified her for a sentence of life in prison ... which she
would no doubt receive if tried today with a different judge and a
Change of Venue. "That's a FACT!" Our posting of court proceedings,
filings and transcripts will prove it!
Be sure to see some of the actual court transcript
and filings, which we are beginning to upload, including the trial
judge's own account, which were submitted to the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals, showing that the trial judge was biased, admitting that Jimmy
Leibrant lied about his deal with the state for testimony against Karla,
then later at the Evidentiary Hearing suppressing evidence of perjured
testimony that could have exonerated Karla from the "premeditation"
aspect of this crime, which is required before a death sentence can be
The testimony of the psychiatrist was that in light
of all the drugs Karla was on at the time --- methadone, heroin,
dilaudid, valium, placidyls, somas, wygesics, percodan, mandrex,
marihuana, bathroom "coke" and large quantities of alcohol -- that Karla
was in a drug induced psychosis on the date of the offense and that a
person "becomes psychotic, unable to distinguish reality, unable to
ascertain the effect of their actions." Dr. Felkins testified that Karla
did NOT "understand what she was doing at the time and what the affect
of her actions would be. She did not realize that what she was doing was
wrong and preventable."
Of course, Judge Lykos' bias against Karla saw to it
that none of this was ever considered as "mitigating evidence" and
accepted instead the perjured testimony of Jimmy Liebrant, third
accomplice in the crime even though he came forth in 1992 to confess
that he had lied about the premeditation and drugs of Karla on the
stand, and was even "high" during his testimony. Judge Lykos even
acknowledges this in the court records you will read here in the coming
days. What happened to a "fair hearing" and Justice in America?
When you think that as cruel as the old Soviet Union
was, there at least were hospitals for the "criminally insane" it makes
you wonder why the U.S. is the only western, technocratic society that
still conducts executions, and among the few of all nations such as Iran,
Iraq & Nigeria, all of whom have human rights violations, that executes
teenagers and the mentally ill. Oh, and yes, the victims of our failed "war
on drugs" like Karla ! ! ! ! Many Americans do not wish to be collegues
in crime with our cold and politically-minded American society that has
no value of the sanctity of LIFE . . . EVERY LIFE! Americans for life,
speak up and vote for true defenders of "justice for all." We can change
things before many more Karlas are ignored and killed by our society.
Finally, our purpose in continuing this site for a
while is not to eulogize Karla, but to address a bigger problem of lack
of sensitivity and understanding of the scourge of drugs and the
ineptitude of our society to deal with it and other such social problems.
Issues of justice and basic human rights will always be relevant and are
basic to our motivation for ministry to this generation. So check in ...
and see future postings. Thank you for your interest and support of this
site. God bless you all!
As Karla's pastor for over 12 years (1984-1996) I and
our whole church and outreach ministry, with whom Karla actively worked,
have spent much time getting to THE TRUTH, and in the aftermath of
Karla's execution, I will post on these pages evidence such as court
records and other documentation, which attest to the veracity of our
statements here. Karla's attorney, Mac Secrest, can also attest to the
factual accuracy of these pages, particularly the facts of this gross
miscarriage of justice noted on the page regarding "due process.
The record shows Karla is a true example of many who
can not get a fair hearing or justice in a local "home-town," vigilante-minded
court because of the same kind of treatment by local authorities and
courts as that received by Ricardo Guerra,whose capital murder
conviction and death sentence for a murder the year before Karla's
(1982) was overturned in 1994 by U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Hoyt.
When he saw that witnesses had been pressured and intimidated for
certain testimony (as Liebrant had been), Hoyt stated that the actions
of the police and prosecutors (in Houston) were "outrageous," "intentional"
and "done in bad faith" ..."to obtain another 'notch in their guns' " (like
Lykos). His ruling was unanimously upheld by the U.S. Court of appeals.
This was the "same channel, same place, same time,"
folks--Houston-- in the early eighties! Same injustice, same prejudice
by a vengeance-filled court and judge with "home court advantage"! No
change of venue here! Some of the jurors now regret it, but did their
best with what the JUDGE allowed them to see, hear and consider! Judge
Lykos' controlled verdict prevailed from beginning to the end!
For the few hating Karla and her "life-message" and
thinking justice was served, my suggestion is you FACE the FACTS and ask
how you can contribute to changing injustice, prejudice and vengeance in
our land ... to exchange your "heart of stone" for a "heart of flesh"
that responds to the needs of the oppressed, down-trodden, homeless,
family-less, abused drug-ridden pariah of our society like Karla. Then
you will have the heart of Christ, and God will be pleased with you! You
will no longer be the one to cast the first stone, but the first one to
try to interceed and cry, "Restore!"
Finally, we're not talking about Karla now or
eulogizing her, we're talking about Almighty God and his requirements of
true Justice With Mercy. You may need it some day. "Blessed are the
merciful, for they shall receive mercy," Jesus said, but "judgment
without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful" (Ja.
2:13) Jesus said, "As the Father has sent Me, so send I you." So ask
yourself what my children do and did when they saw Karla's picture in
the paper, "What would Jesus do?" They said, "He wouldn't KILL her!"
Karla Faye Tucker
When she was declared dead at 6:45pm CST,
Karla Faye Tucker became the first woman executed in Texas since Chipita
Rodriguez was hanged in 1863 and the first in the United States since
Her last words were:
"Yes sir, I would like to say to all
of you, the Thornton family and Jerry Dean's family that I am so sorry.
I hope God will give you peace with this.
Baby, I love you. Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. Everybody has been so
good to me. I love all of you very much. I'm going to be face-to-face
with Jesus now.
Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me.
I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I
will wait for you."
In the days before her execution, the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied her claim that the state's
clemency process was unconstitutional on January 28. On February 2, the
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected her bid for clemency.
Finally, on February 3, the United States Supreme Court rejected two
requests to halt the execution and Texas governor George W. Bush refused
to grant a one-time 30-day reprieve.
Tucker was convicted of killing Jerry
Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton with a pickax. Tucker admitted
accompanying Daniel Garrett to a Houston apartment to steal Dean's
motorcycle. Garrett started beating Dean with a hammer and when Dean
began to gurgle, she picked up a pickax and repeatedly stabbed him with
it. When Dean's friend was discovered hiding in a corner of the room,
Tucker turned the pickax on her to eliminate her as a witness.
Her case received worldwide attention
because of her conversion to Christianity and her gender. Evangelist and
former presidential candidate Pat Robertson, a death penalty supporter,
said, "This thing is vengeance. It makes no sense. This is not the
same woman who committed those crimes."
Appeals for clemency on her behalf also
came from Pope John Paul II, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, U.N.
expert on summary and arbitrary executions Waly Bacre Ndiaye, the World
Council of Churches, and even the brother of Deborah Thornton, Ron
Karla Faye TUCKER
Karla Faye Tucker had a
difficult childhood, her father had given up on her as a child and her
mother died from the effects of drug abuse on Christmas Eve 1979 when
she was 20, ending her relationship with the only person, whom she said,
had always really loved her.
She too had got into hard drugs
and her mother got her into prostitution at the age of 14.
It is a sadly common story in
murder cases - a young person gets into drugs and then into crime after
a poor or disturbed childhood.
On June 13 1983, Karla Faye
Tucker (aged 23) and Daniel Ryan Garrett (27) allegedly high on a
cocktail of methadone, Valium, heroin, marijuana, rum, tequila and other
drugs went to the Houston apartment of Jerry Lynn Dean (also aged 27),
apparently to steal Dean’s Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Karla knew Dean who was the
estranged husband of her best friend. She disliked him as he had once
parked the motorbike in her living room and let it drip oil onto the
carpet. He had also destroyed her only pictures of her mother.
When they entered the apartment
they found Jerry Dean asleep. Garrett attacked Dean with a hammer. Dean
was making a gurgling sound so Karla finished him off with the pick axe.
"I just wanted to make the noise
stop," she testified at her trial.
Then she noticed 32-year-old
Deborah Thornton cowering under sheets in a corner. She had had a row
with her husband and met Dean at a party earlier that evening. Hyped up
on the drugs and the killing of Jerry Dean, Karla attacked Deborah
Thornton with the pickaxe, raining numerous blows into her body and
finally leaving the pick axe embedded in her torso. The pair stole Jerry
Dean's money and car before they left.
Tucker later was heard on a police wiretap saying she had an orgasm
every time she sank the pickaxe into Dean and Thornton’s bodies.
Arrest and trial
Daniel Garrett was arrested
after a tip off on July 20th 1983 as he left home to go to work. Karla
was arrested the same day, as was a third suspect Albert Sheenan.
Karla Faye went to trial on
April 11th 1984 before a jury of eight women and four men, presided over
by a female judge. Albert Sheenan who admitted having gone to Dean's
apartment but denied any part in the murders. He testified against both
The defense called no witnesses
and the jury retired for only 70 minutes before convicting Karla. The
trial now entered the penalty phase and the defense called a woman
psychiatrist who testified that Karla had told her she had been taking
drugs since the age of nine and was addicted to heroin at ten. She
described Karla's state of mind to the court - how Karla had not slept
in three days and how she had been taking drugs and drink on the night
of the killings. The psychiatrist also told the jury that she didn't
think it likely that Karla had derived sexual pleasure from the killings
even though she had boasted about having done so on the wiretap. She
thought it unlikely that Karla had ever experienced any real sexual
satisfaction in fact.
Karla took the stand in her own
defense and gave her version of the events and told the jury that she
did not feel the killings were real to her "I did not see the bodies. I
do not remember seeing any holes or any blood".
After deliberating for nearly 3
hours on April 25th 1984 the jury recommended that Karla Faye
be sentenced to death by lethal injection. The trial had made the news,
but Karla's death sentence made headlines.
MURDERESS SENTENCED TO DIE"
one front-page declared in
letters an inch high over a picture of Tucker. (Daniel Garrett was tried
separately, convicted and sentenced to death in November of the same
year but subsequently died of liver disease on death row in 1993.)
Karla spent nearly 14 years on
female death row at the Mountain View unit of Gatesville penitentiary.
Here she went through the normal appeals process and a final appeal to
the state governor, George W Bush for clemency all of which were
rejected. On Monday 2 February 1998, she was flown the 175 miles to
Huntsville and taken to the Walls Unit to be placed in a holding cell
next to the execution chamber. On her final day, she refused breakfast
in her cell and was said by her guards to be "at peace". She wrote a
letter and took two visits. She was allowed half-an-hour with her
husband, prison minister Dana Brown whom she had married on death row,
and another half-hour with a spiritual adviser.
The US Supreme Court rejected
two last-minute calls for clemency and the Texas governor, George Bush,
ordered the execution to go ahead on time. He said her case had been
thoroughly reviewed. "I have concluded judgements about the heart and
soul of an individual on Death Row are best left to a higher authority,"
Mr. Bush said.
Sometime after 6.20 p.m. Karla
dressed in fresh white prison clothes got onto the gurney unaided and
was strapped down over her legs and body. Her arms were strapped to side
boards and a catheter was inserted into the veins of each arm. She was
wheeled into the execution chamber at 6.35 p.m.
She was asked if she had a final
statement and turned her head towards the witness chamber and said into
the microphone: "Yes sir, I would like to say to all of you, the
Thornton family and Jerry Dean’s family that I am so sorry. I hope God
will give you peace with this.
Karla then looked at her husband,
watching from behind the screen, and said: "Baby, I love you. Everybody
has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I’m going to be
face to face with Jesus now.
"Warden Baggett, thank all of
you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I
will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you."
She closed her eyes, and seemed to move her lips in silent prayer before
looking at the ceiling.
The three drugs, sodium
thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride began to be
injected at 6.37 p.m. Within two minutes, the witnesses heard Tucker
give two deep sighs and then a groan. She was pronounced dead at 6.45pm,
eight minutes later. Her eyes were open and still staring at the ceiling.
Richard Thornton, the victim’s
husband, and her son, Bucky David, 24, and step-daughter, Kathryn
Thornton, 26, were among those who watched the execution.
Afterwards Thornton said: "I
want to say to every victim in the world, demand this execution. This
day belongs to Deborah Ruth Thornton. Her killer has been sent to a
place we’re all going to go to sometime, some place my wife already is.
She will deal with Karla Faye Tucker. I promise you, it won’t be pretty."
He also dismissed Ms. Tucker’s apology to his family as "staged." "I
don’t believe in her Christianity. I don’t believe in her conversion" he
Outside the prison there were
demonstrations by both pro and anti capital punishment groups.
Karla Faye Tucker - her own
On the 18 January 1998 Karla
sent a letter to George W. Bush. the governor of Texas of which some
extracts were published.
"I am in no way attempting to
minimize the brutality of my crime. It obviously was very, very horrible
and I do take full responsibility for what happened. I also know that
justice and law demand my life for the two innocent lives I brutally
murdered that night. If my execution is the only thing, the final act
that can fulfil the demand for restitution and justice, then I accept
that. I will pay the price for what I did in any way our law demands it."
"I was advised by my attorneys
to plead not guilty and I was trusting their legal expertise. They knew
I murdered Jerry and Deborah. I did not lie to them about it. I am, in
fact, guilty. Very guilty."
"I used to try and blame my
mother because she was my role model and she fashioned and shaped me
into what I was at an early age. At 14 she took me to a place where
there was all men and wanted to ‘school me’ in the art of being a call
girl. I wanted to please my mother so much. I wanted her to be proud of
me. So instead of saying no, I just tried to do what she asked. The
thing is, deep down inside I knew that what I was doing was wrong. It
may have been the norm for the crowd I was in, but it was not the norm
for decent, upstanding families."
"I no longer try to lay the
blame on my mother or on society."
"I don’t blame drugs either.
When I say that I was out of it on drugs the night I brutally murdered
two people, I fully realize that I made the choice to do those drugs.
Had I chosen not to do drugs, there would be two people still alive
today. But I did choose to do drugs, and I did lose it, and two people
are dead because of me."
"I did not plan on going over
there that particular night to go into that apartment to kill anyone.
But that is beside the point. The fact is, we went there, we went into
the apartment, we brutally murdered two precious people, and we left out
of there and even bragged about what we did for over a month afterward."
"It was in October, three months
after I had been locked up, when a ministry came to the jail and I went
to the services, that night accepting Jesus into my heart.
When I did this, the full and
overwhelming weight and reality of what I had done hit me. I began
crying that night for the first time in many years, and to this day,
tears are a part of my life."
"I also wanted to try and send
some money out to one of my victim’s family members (it was for Deborah’s
son, for his schooling). When Ron Carlson came to me in 1992 and told me
he had forgiven me for what I had done to his sister, I let him know I
was trying to get some money to his nephew. He told me not to. I would
only be hurting him if I did send the money to him. And he told me that
his nephew would not receive the money from me anyway because he wanted
nothing to do with me. I understand the pain and I did not push."
"Fourteen years ago, I was part
of the problem. Now I am part of the solution.
"I have purposed to do right for
the last 14 years, not because I am in prison, but because my God
demands this of me. I know right from wrong and I must do right."
"I feel that if I were in here
still in the frame of mind I got arrested in, still acting out and
fighting and hurting others and not caring or trying to do good, I feel
sure you would consider that against me. I don’t really understand why
you can’t or won’t consider my change for the good in my favor."
"I don’t really understand the
guidelines for commutation of death sentences, but I can promise you
this: If you commute my sentence to life, I will continue for the rest
of my life in this earth to reach out to others to make a positive
difference in their lives."
"I see people in here in the
prison where I am who are here for horrible crimes, and for lesser
crimes, who to this day are still acting out in violence and hurting
others with no concern for another life or for their own life. I can
reach out to these girls and try and help them change before they walk
out of this place and hurt someone else."
"I am seeking you to commute my
sentence and allow me to pay society back by helping others. I can’t
bring back the lives I took. But I can, if I am allowed, help save lives.
That is the only real restitution I can give."
Some of you reading this may be
totally against capital punishment under any circumstances which is a
view I understand and respect, equally some of you may be whole
heartedly in favor of it which is a view that I also understand and
respect. What I cannot accept is the selective view that says it alright
to execute a man but not a woman, or person in the Middle East but not
an American - this is inconsistent and patently unjust. I hope that you
would all agree that if a society is to have the death penalty then it
should be applied even handedly and promptly or it should be abolished
and replaced with a sentence of imprisonment that reflects the gravity
of the crime. Whatever the punishment it should not be based upon the
race, sex, social standing or past and present personality of the
offender. If it is affected by these factors it could hardly be called
justice. (This is, in fact, often a criticism of the American justice
system which seems to some to be more willing to execute poor black
males while reprieving women and wealthy white males).
As many people have pointed out
had Karla been Karl i.e. a man rather than a woman, most of us would
never have heard of the case and the execution would have sparked little
or no interest.
37 men were executed at the
Walls Unit in 1997 but very few people could name any of them and they
hardly got so much as a mention in the foreign press.
The anti-capital punishment lobby created as much hype as possible over
this case and there is always a far stronger interest from the media in
female executions. It was just the same when Velma Barfield was executed.
Why do we have this strange attitude in society to the execution of
women which does not apply to the execution of men?
Why is it that in America women
are deemed virtually ineligible for capital punishment?
Is it still a male dominated
society where women are perceived somehow as vulnerable? Are they not as
responsible for their crimes as men? NO - clearly these are nonsensical
reasons in a modern world in which women are as well, or better,
educated, have successful careers, hold senior positions in government,
law, business, the public services and the military. And yet there is
widespread concern at putting women to death which is seen as somehow
Surprisingly the only
retentionist country that expressly forbids the execution of women is
Do we think they are not brave
enough to face their punishment or is it just a misplaced sense of
chivalry on the part of men - perhaps a reverence for the mother figure?
The European Parliament, The
Pope, Bianca Jagger and all the rest of the anti-capital punishment
establishment were rolled out for Karla - but why?
Was it because she was still
reasonably young and attractive?
Was it because of the media
availability in countries such as America and the considerable notice
that the media had of the execution date - it was announced on 17th
December last year by District Judge Debbie Stricklin in Houston?
Certainly Karla gave a good
media performance and hardly came across as a monster.
However there is the little
matter of the facts - Karla was, by her own admission, guilty of two
particularly horrific murders where the motive was either theft or
sadistic pleasure or both.
The jury voted for the death
sentence, which under Texas law they are entitled to do, because of the
appalling nature of the crimes. Had Karla killed, say, her abusive
husband in a fight they would have probably voted for a term of
imprisonment. Do we respect the jury system or do we feel we have the
right to overturn their verdict and sentence when we disapprove of it? (Remember
the furore of the Louise Woodward case when the judge took that same
As there was no doubt of her
guilt why wasn’t she executed in 1984 when she was still the same person
who committed those crimes and when her execution might have had some
And what about her religious
conversion - I am willing to accept that it was genuine but unable to
see how it helps, she was still just as guilty. When a person is placed
on death row it is a very different life - they have no work and little
or nothing to occupy their time. Any human contact makes a change from
life in a cell and religion may be a route to a reprieve so it is not
surprising that many condemned prisoners turn to it. Probably some of
them are genuinely appalled by their crimes and want to find God to
obtain His forgiveness. This is reasonable but does not in my view
constitute grounds for a reprieve. Obviously the Texas Pardons Board
felt the same as they voted 16 - 0 (with two abstentions) against a
reprieve in this case. A death sentence means what it says and is not
about rehabilitation which would not have taken place had the sentence
been carried out after the first appeal was turned down. It is about
retribution pure and simple.
Vast sums of public money (typically
$2 - 2.5 million in a Texas capital case) were spent on endless appeals
for no useful purpose and yet over the years Karla had grown up, kicked
her drug habit and found religion thus becoming a very different person.
(Over a period of 14 years most of us change significantly). And yet if
some of that money had been spent on her and Daniel Garrett when they
were totally out of control and hooked on drugs would four people still
be alive today?
Whatever your views on capital
punishment there are no winners at an execution, it merely adds to the
If a state is going to have the
death penalty, Karla Faye Tucker was just the sort of case where it will
be imposed. In a modern democracy where there is proper concern for
justice there should always be an appeal but if that fails and there are
no compelling factors for further review of the case the execution
should be carried out promptly.
Had Texas taken this route it
would have met far less protest and it would have, in reality, been far
less cruel to Karla Faye Tucker.
Her victim’s families would have
been able to close off a painful chapter in their lives much sooner and
the state would have saved a great deal of money.
Surely it is pointless and cruel
to keep someone on death row for almost 14 years before carrying out
Karla Faye Tucker
(CNN) -- Karla Faye Tucker admits that
nearly 15 years ago, she helped murder two people with a pickax. And she
says that a few months later, she became a Christian.
Tucker, 38, now wants the result of the
conversion -- a clean life -- to spare her from the result of the
killings: her own death, scheduled for Tuesday.
The slim, brown-eyed brunette refuses to
talk about her specific memories of the June 1983 night that she and her
boyfriend barged into the Houston, Texas, home of Jerry Lynn Dean.
"The details of what happened that
night, I don't share," Tucker told CNN's Larry King in a January 14
interview on death row at Texas' Mountain View Unit in Gatesville.
The details shocked the nation. She and
Daniel Garrett, both high on drugs for days, went to "case the
joint" for robbery when they entered Dean's home.
The Texas "rap sheet," the
state Department of Criminal Justice's inmate case brief, summarizes her
testimony: Garrett bashed Dean in the head with a hammer, and Tucker
grabbed a pickax to silence a "gurgling sound" Dean was making.
Tucker and Garrett also attacked Deborah
Thornton, a friend of Dean's, with the pickax. Both bodies had more than
20 stab wounds. Tucker said she felt each stroke sexually, a claim she
She was convicted and sentenced to death
in Dean's killing. Garrett was also convicted and sentenced to death; he
died in prison in 1993.
"I can't -- I can't make sense out
of it," Tucker told King of the murders.
But she can make sense of what religion
has done for her. Pointing to her faith and clean prison record, she
claims she no longer meets a key finding for sentencing someone to death
in Texas -- posing a threat to society.
"If there is a change for the
positive, and it's proven, and it's factual, why can't that be
considered" in her plea to be spared lethal injection, she asked on
"Larry King Live."
Her husband, Dana Brown, is just one of
many supporters convinced her conversion is genuine. He was doing prison
ministry when he met her, and married her by proxy in 1995.
Thornton's own brother, Ron Carlson,
wants her spared. Her supporter with perhaps the biggest marquee value
is former presidential candidate Pat Robertson.
To opponents, including Thornton's
widowed husband Richard, the issue is not as simple as excusing her from
They note that if her sentence were
commuted to life, she could be eligible for parole in five years. And
they dismiss her willingness to forgo parole as a ploy outside Texas law.
Then, many observers suggest she's only
getting sympathy as the first woman to be executed in Texas since the
Civil War, and only the second in the nation since a 1976 Supreme Court
decision reinstated the death penalty.
Tucker claims her gender may be more
hindrance than help.
"This gender issue is almost forcing
their hand to say, 'we're not going to let a woman get by with it'"
and be spared, Tucker told King.
The woman once capable of extreme
brutality now not only rejects the death penalty, she also opposes
abortion and euthanasia. She even wants her own child.
Tucker says she wants to live to minister
to other prisoners who are as lost as she was. But she placed little
value even on her own life before her conversion.
"I didn't care about anybody. I
didn't care about myself," she told King.
When she was very young, she said, her
mother told her she could grow up to become anything. But her mother
also gave her little guidance, and encouraged her to be a prostitute as
a teen-ager. Her father, by then, wasn't on the scene.
Tucker recalled using marijuana and
heroin for years before that. She dropped out of school. By the time of
the murders, she was trying to impress a rough crowd.
She told King it was "inevitable
that something like that was going to happen in my life," given her
"I not only didn't walk around
without any guilt, I was proud of thinking that I had finally measured
up to the big boys," she said.
Then, in the fall of 1983, she stole a
Bible after a prison ministry program, took it to her cell and began to
read -- and realize what she had done.
"I didn't know what I was reading
and before I knew it, I was just -- I was in the middle of my floor on
my knees and I was just asking God to forgive me."
Now more than 14 years later, Tucker was
clinging to that turn-about, as she stared February 3 in the face.
"It's a blessing to be a part of it,"
she told King of her case, "and it's exciting to know that God has
a plan for this."
Tucker: Texas' Controversial Murderess
23-year-old Karla Faye Tucker, when not glassy-eyed under the effects of
the multitude of drugs she tended to swallow at one sitting, may have
looked like some proud mother's honor student. The fresh-faced Texan,
however, by the time June 13, 1983, rolled around, had lived a life hard
enough to have erased any schoolgirl whispiness from the core of her
eyes. Innocence hadn't slowly evaporated in Karla Faye's case; it had
been devoured painfully, masticated by a world that chewed her up
halfway before she learned to bite back.
later describe herself during that time in her life as being a mixed-up,
peer-pressured, radical whose life had been a succession of last-minute
decisions, all without fear of consequence, all bad, all rotten. If one
were to watch her face as the sun went down that June, 1983, they would
have seen the expression of someone who was, as she were to tell TV
interviewer Larry King years later, "crazy, violent."
A party had
been in force for three days in the small brick house in Houston, Texas;
there Karla Faye lived with 37-year-old Daniel Garrett, described in his
world as a "pill doctor," a provider of pills. Inspiration for the
weekend bash was the birthday of Kari Ann, Karla's older sister, and as
it steamed on it had developed into something more than the "high"
everyone hoped. Inhibitions disappeared as well as clothing. Kari had
wanted a sex orgy and her celebrants were eager to give her one. Garrett
and the partiers en masse were like Karla Faye, whose existence had
culminated in a no-life of drugs and booze. Both factors were
predominant at the bash. Beer, whisky and tequila provided the means to
wash down the "dessert tray" of placydills, dilaudids, valium, mandrex
"On top of all
this I had been doing a considerable amount of coke and bathtub speed,"
Karla Faye attested in a 1990 interview with LifeWay Church magazine,
recalling the night of her crime. "I didn't usually do speed much;
heroin and downers was my preference because I am a very hyper person
and doing speed always 'skitzed' me out - made me go crazy...(That
night) we were cooking speed, and we started shooting it because it was
there, and I loved the needle in my arm - what one would call a needle
Much of the
talk at the party centered around the recent marital break-up of mutual
friends Shawn and Jerry Lynn Dean. Dismal, Shawn attended the party,
beaten with a busted nose and lip; she had left her biker husband a week
earlier after he had physically abused her for what would turn out to be
the last time. Because Shawn was Karla Faye's best friend, the latter
stewed throughout the evening, threatening to drive to Jerry's apartment
to beat him up.
"I saw what he
had done to (Shawn), and I was really mad (because) I was really
protective of her," Karla Faye told LifeWay. "I thought, 'Yeah, I'll get
even with him!' My idea of getting even with him meant confronting him,
standing toe to toe, fist to fist."
As the party
progressed, the bitter feelings raged; the pills added to the animosity
and the excitement of the very night itself seemed to heat up Karla
Faye's anger. While most of the people at the party were enjoying the
haze of their own smoky brain and the absolute nakedness of whomever
happened to be beside them on the floor, Karla Faye, Danny, Shawn and
another friend Jimmy Leibrant retreated to a corner in the kitchenette
to slur their vehemence over wife-beater Dean. Their intention was
revenge, but at that point the kitchen table dialogue just spoke in
generalities - in terms of kicking ass and doing something to the
bastard that he'd never forget. Eventually sister Kari and her friend
Ronnie joined the conversation and the threats melted into sardonic
laughter, eventually fading into idle, tough talk that dissipated as the
last of the capsules were downed and the final inhalations of the final
joints were savored.
Danny had to
leave the party mid-evening, Sunday, June 13, to go to work. He was a
bartender at a local gin mill and had spent the last couple of hours
sobering enough to perform his job half-heartedly, half-consciously.
Karla Faye drove him the few blocks, promising to pick him up at 2 a.m.
when the tavern closed. When the couple left the house, they bid goodbye
to the few who sauntered out with them for home, giggling at the lost
weekend, and stepped over the remaining half-nude bodies passed out on
the floor. There was no need to awaken them.
off Danny, Karla Faye returned to find Shawn more down than before. She
had sunk into a reverie of love-and-hate for her husband. A bottle of
tequila askew on her lap, she whimpered to Ronnie and anyone else caring
to listen how she wanted him taken care of and that she still adored him.
At last, she slumbered, a half scorn and half smile taunting her lips.
Ronnie fell asleep beside her.
announced that she needed to go out and make some money - she was a
prostitute and knew the corner in that part of town where pickups were a
cinch - and teetered outside in that direction. Waiting for Danny to
finish work, Karla Faye and Leibrant resumed their loathing of Jerry
dislike for the 27-year-old Dean stretched back several months when she
first moved here to the Quay Points district in Houston. She knew that
Shawn had married the man on a fling and the first time she brought him
over turned out to be the first time Karla Faye hated him. Arriving home
after being gone all day, she found that Dean had had the nerve to roll
his Harley Davidson inside her home for safety's sake. Never a candidate
for Good Housekeeping's woman of the year, Karla Faye nevertheless
angered to see the motorcycle with its dripping oil pan leaning against
her television set and emanating stale fumes. Despite Shawn being her
friend, she asked the couple to leave. Words passed between the biker
and Karla Faye, then simmered for the presence of Shawn.
time, the few instances Karla Faye and Dean met by chance brought locked
horns. It was a personality clash; the girl simply disliked him, he
disliked the girl. As Karla Faye admitted to LifeWay, they fought to
fight. "One time he was sitting in his car outside and I punched him in
the eye for just being there."
relationship grew irreparable. Shawn continuing to see her girlfriend
against her husband's wishes added to the feud, and Dean used every
chance he could to deride Karla Faye to his wife. Shawn, never one to
keep secrets, even confessed to the other that hubby had come across a
picture she owned of Karla Faye and her mother that he seemed to take
great pleasure in stabbing through with a butcher knife.
Just before 2
a.m., Jimmy Leibrant joined Karla Faye to fetch live-in Danny at work.
Outside, the weather cooked, still crisp from a humid day. Maybe some of
the effects of that weekend's binge were beginning to wane, but both
were beginning to notice little things like the hot night wind that blew
across their noses or the supreme quietude of Quay Point tonight. By
moonlight, Quay Point looked more dingy than ever, and they laughed at
that fact, resolute to their positions in life.
was in a jocular mood. Both were wired. Getting into her bomb of a car,
Karla Faye expressed her desire to strip and dive into the water-filled
quarry across the street - to flail, to kick, to bust out, to move!
Jimmy, too, said he wanted to leap from his skin. Jimmy's bones remained
in his hide and Karla Faye remained in her jeans. Instead, she drummed
the motor and pointed its trembling hood ornament in the direction of
the bar where they knew Danny was just locking up.
"I have an
idea!" Danny chuckled as he slid into the passenger seat beside his
woman. "Been giving the situation some thought, and I say we go, tonight,
now, to steal the sunuvabitch's Jerry Dean's bike!" The other two awed
at the idea; they knew that there was no greater insult to a biker than
to mess with his machine. On the way home, they discussed their plan.
They would go
tonight, while the idea was fresh and, let's face it, while they were
still pent-up with vengeance. Karla Faye knew Dean's apartment well --
on the ground floor of one of those cheap dumps down the road that
looked more like a transient hotel than an apartment building. The kind
of neighborhood, like Quay Point, where cops preferred not to cruise
unless they really had to. The joint would be easy to break into; and
Dean would probably be fast asleep by now. He was known to smoke a
couple of joints before hitting the hay, to relax. More than likely, he
would be fast asleep.
Back at their
place, they found Shawn awake again, though drowsy. She concurred that
her husband would be counting Zs and, when hearing the details of their
raid, wished the would-be robbers good luck. It would teach the bastard
a lesson, she said. Danny, Jimmy and Karla changed clothes, dressing
entirely in black. On their way out the door, Danny directed Jimmy to
grab a shotgun he kept hidden under the sofa; once in the car, Danny
took a .38. from the glove compartment and dropped into one of his boots.
The weapons, Karla Faye later explained, were meant for protection in
the area they were headed, not to use against anyone.
At that time,
she continued, they had yet no intention to kill Jerry Lynn Dean.
auto aside, lights off, into the lot adjacent to Dean's front door, the
trio emerged. Karla Faye noted that the street out front the place was
dimly lit. "We might not even take the damn thing tonight if there are
any people roaming around inside the halls or something," Danny told
them. "But, we have to case the joint first. At least we'll get a fairly
good look to see how easy the bike'll be to steal."
Jimmy to remain outside to keep an eye out for cops while he and Karla
Faye would attempt to snap the front door lock. Keeping with the shadows,
they approached the front door - the light overhead the awning was out
-- that was good! - and Danny wiggled the doorknob in his hand. Pushing
it inward with a grunt, something clicked and the door swung inward.
edged in, nudging the door closed behind them. It wedged against the jam,
having tilted under Danny's stress. In the dark, they knew they had hit
gold, for they could detect the rancid odor of gasoline, mixed with the
stale leather and cold metal. The smell meant motorcycle. Yet, they
waited before proceeding further into the room; from the hint of a foyer,
they held their breath to listen. No sound. No sound. Peering into the
darkness; the shadows petrified. No movement. No movement.
fingers grappled his jacket lining for the flashlight somewhere in an
inner pocket, then pointed its beam straight ahead. Silver handlebars of
a motorcycle glistened; even in the tangerine light one could see they
were highly polished. Moving down, the ray caught the signature in
chrome, decorating the gas tank: Harley Davidson.
The rod was
partially disassembled. One wheel and other parts lie strewn on a dirty
tarpaulin stretched across the floor. Karla Faye, her eyes following the
meager beam of light as Danny ran it past various angles of the room,
scorned at the filthiness of the apartment. Dean's living room not only
smelled like a garage, it looked like one. An open tool box lay beside
the bike, a potpourri of greasy tools left out of place, scattered
everywhere, even on some of the furniture. She couldn't figure out why
he would need a shovel and a pickaxe, but those two instruments leaned
against the farthest wall.
At first she
was disappointed to find the bike in pieces, but then quickly reasoned
that since it was impossible to steal the bike in whole, she could just
as easily cripple the renovation job Dean obviously took great pride in
by snatching some of the main components.
barely manifested when a square of light pierced the blackness from a
doorway beside them. Karla Faye gasped. It was Dean's bedroom, and he
had flicked on the light! Staring, waiting for his hulk to fill the
doorway, the intruders saw the foot-end of a bed protruding into view
and could hear the squeak of its mattress.
"Who the hell
is out there?" Dean's all-too-familiar growl.
felt herself waver; one foot aimed for the front door, the other toes
dug in defiantly for a fight. Her hands clenched into fists. While she
froze in this confusion, Danny had already reacted. He had grabbed a
hammer from beside the toolbox and was now racing, hammer out front, for
the bedroom. Karla Faye followed instinctively. From the doorway of the
room, she watched Danny's weapon strike the figure of Dean who had half-risen
from the covers. The blow, which had struck his head, jolted him
backwards. Blood crept from each nostril, then from the corners of his
mouth. Not hesitating, Danny dealt a series of more whacks to the head
that sent a thudding, almost dull, echo throughout the room. Karla Faye
found the violence thrilling. Her thighs tingled.
The sight she
saw was evil, it was wicked and totally sinfully, brutally magnetic. She
wanted to partake of the sacrifice and roll in the wantonness, to rip
free her emotions that screamed to be unchained. Danny's bludgeons
continued, for he seemed to be releasing his own frustrations. There was
no role for her in this ritual - until she saw the girl almost buried
under the covers beside the other side of the bed where she had slipped
and was now attempting to hide herself.
still black and blue and already he's got a tramp in bed! Damn bitch,
I'll kill her!
into the living room, Karla Faye grabbed the first murderous thing she
saw, that pick-axe, three feet long and easy to the grip. Effortlessly,
she lifted it, and returned to the chamber already smelling of blood.
Danny, his senses satiated for the moment, paused to watch what his girl
was doing, followed her curious movements as she circled the bed and
raised the axe overhead. Now, for the first time; it was his turn to
watch her as she swooped the pick in an arc, tearing the blade through
the torso of the cowering female. "Let her have it!" he cheered. Seeing
that Dean's skull was thoroughly flattened, Danny stood as spectator to
Karla Faye's grand performance.
The girl, whom
would later be identified as Deborah Thornton, had screamed only once
and began to gurgle. The gurgling annoyed Karla Faye, so she gave it to
her again and again in the chest, legs, stomach and shoulders. The more
the body seemed to quiver, the more Karla Faye struck to stop its
trembling. As the carcass turned to mush, blood splattered upward and
across the room, onto the murderess.
mimicked, but delighted in the sensation. Danny threw a blanket over her
head, daring her to hit the target blindfolded. "Like a pinata!" he
rooted. And the killing became a game. Under the darkness of the cover,
Karla Faye's senses became more acute; she could hear the whoosh of the
axe as it fell, could hear the squish-squish of the blade penetrating
soft, wet flesh. Ecstasy! Although she denied it later, she would tell
friends that the excitement generated a triple orgasm, the likes of
which she had never before experienced.
Tucker had busted loose.
When she had
finished with Thornton, empowered by the deviancy, she finished off Dean
with another twenty blows.
left the scene of the crime, Danny left the pickaxe impaled in Deborah
The next day
was like any other for the murderers. They remembered very little and,
well, what happened had been a small affair. A bastard and a bitch gone
to hell. Their dispatchers didn't run, and saw no need to hide. It was a
In a taped
interview with Larry King, Karla Faye, shunning the details of the
murder, nevertheless recalled that, "I not only didn't walk around with
any guilt, I was proud of thinking I had finally measured up to the big
boys." Apart from that initial pride, the only deep sense she may have
experienced after the murder was lethargy. "I didn't care about anybody...I
didn't place any value on myself or anybody else."
discovered the murder victims; police were called in; an investigation
began. It didn't take law officers long to connect the bodies to the
killers. Cops learned with whom they associated and started asking
questions. Everyone at the party had learned about what Karla Faye and
Danny had done - hell they had bragged about their deed! When the police
started getting rough, everyone who knew anything talked. Danny's
brother talked. Kari Tucker talked. Shawn talked. Even Jimmy Leibrant,
when he was nabbed, talked. He hadn't been involved, said he, but waited
outside for what was supposed to be a burglary.
days of the trial to come, Leibrant turned state's evidence to walk away
Tucker would be sentenced to death. So would Danny Garrett.
in prison a few years later.
would live long enough to repent - and become Texas' most controversial
figure ever on any state's death row.
Tucker was born in Houston, Harris County, Texas on November 18, 1959.
Life started out normal enough for the doll-faced little brunette with
large almond eyes and a set of dimpled cheeks. By the time she came into
the world, the Tuckers already had two daughters, Kari Ann, one year old,
and Kathi Lynne, two, and a German shepherd who was child-friendly.
Larry, her father, was a longshoreman in the Gulf of Mexico and her
mother, Carolyn, a home mom. Karla Faye's earliest years were happiest.
As a family
unit, the Tuckers often vacationed in a small cottage they owned on
Caney Creek in Brazoria, Texas. "I was an itty-bitty girl...we were
family, and we used to go to the bay house and do neat things with the
boat and dog and water skiing and fishing and stuff, but it didn't last
very long," she told former Miss America Terry Meeuwsen during a
Christian Broadcasting Network in the 1990s.
Mr. and Mrs.
Tucker had an on-again, off-again marriage, literally. They divorced and
remarried several times, trying to make a go of it, but each time they
would regress. Each time it was because of infidelity. The three
daughters felt the sting of the breakups, only to rejoice at the
reunions, only to be torn asunder again when the parents' union did so.
When Karla Faye was ten, the final dissolution took place. It was messy.
"I didn't know
why my parents divorced; I was too young to know," she told LifeWay
Church magazine who featured her story in a 1990 edition. "My dad got
custody of us girls, and we all wanted to go with Mother...My father
couldn't control us real good. He tried to discipline us, but we were
just too much, just too much."
only added to a number of personal problems Karla Faye was already
experiencing at a young age. For one, she had always felt like the ugly
duckling between two blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned siblings.
Also, she was extremely self-conscious about a large birthmark on her
arm. She found it hard to communicate with other kids in school and
those who played up and down Hewitt Street where she lived.
divorce proceedings, which seemed like an eternity to a young child
caught up in the midst of the battling, Karla found out exactly why she
did not look like Kari and Kathi. Her mother admitted to her that she
was the result of an extramarital affair. Even though her father had
accepted Karla Faye as his own, the third daughter from that moment on
never psychologically could convince herself that she belonged to the
Tuckers, as real kids Kathi and Kari belonged.
Tucker wanted a family, so she did what all other children do when their
own isn't definable: looked for one elsewhere.
By the time
she was 10 years old she had been smoking marijuana for nearly a year, a
recreation introduced by her sisters. Finding that maryjane was not
companion enough to make her feel like the somebody she wanted to feel
like, she tried the harder stuff. Before she was eleven, she was
of others - peer pressure," Karla Faye explained to Ms. Meeuwson. "My
sisters were into drugs and they had a friend who was older; they always
hung around with older people. There was a lot of drugs."
sex, too, at an age when other girls still played with dolls. Because
she went where her sisters went, she began hanging out with the same
crowd. The clique largely consisted of bikers, chief among them a
neighborhood gang called the Banditos. This "club" often conducted drug
fests that ended in orgies. Karla Faye present at some of these parties,
even though initially not a participant, took mental notes wide-eyed and,
in the process, learned that the birds and the bees could make quite
contact with sex came when she was twelve. One evening she happened to
stop by one of the member's houses looking for her sisters, who, she
discovered, weren't there. The biker talked her into joining him on a
high. After they shot up, he took her for a ride on his bike to a
secluded spot where he had his way with the pre-teen. She liked it and
learned that "sex on high" was the ultimate trip.
She had found
a family. It brought her bright colors, a buzz in the head and a warm
feeling all over her body.
And a sense of
Dysfunctionality roared. Under her father's custody, Karla Faye was
expected to walk the straight and narrow, but he was rarely home to
supervise. He worked two shifts, was gone late into the evening, and his
daughters took full advantage of their liberty. Karla Faye dropped out
of school in the middle of the seventh grade without much parental
disapproval. When in her mother's care, the straight and narrow often
curved, like the time her mother discovered the girl sneaking a maryjane
in her bedroom. Instead of lecturing the adolescent as her dad would
have done, Mrs. Tucker scolded her on her inability to pack a smooth
joint. Then instructed her on the fine art of rolling.
consider Mama Tucker was not June Cleaver. To make ends meet after the
divorce, she drifted, if at first hesitantly, into prostitution. Being
yet in her twenties and still blossoming of a noble housewife, she found
her place in the profession of the call girl a lucrative one. She was
the girl next-door oozing temptation.
Tucker inherited a Karla Faye whom her ex-husband could no longer handle,
she may have at first worried how she could carry on her productive
trade from her Genoa, Texas, apartment in the presence of a teenager.
Evidently, according to Karla Faye, Mama devised a solution beneficial
Karla was to
testify later: "(My mother) took me to a place where there was all men
and wanted to school me in the art of being a call girl. I wanted to
please my mother so much. I wanted her to be proud of me. So, instead of
saying no, I just tried to do what she asked...The thing is, I knew deep
down inside that what I was doing was wrong."
Tucker became a prostitute at age 14.
After a while,
it no longer seemed sordid. Especially when she accompanied her mother,
an inveterate rock groupie, on concert tours state to state. Highlights
of this period included personal meetings with the Allman Brothers, the
Marshall Tucker Band and the Eagles. For a teenager who didn't know how
to handle it, and hadn't heard of the word 'moderation,' life was
enchanting, nevermind that the speed and the booze might catch up.
Faye was sixteen, she met and wed Stephen Griffith, a mechanic. On the
surface, the marriage appeared happy. Griffith thought it was. He liked
his wife's tomboyish quality, her feistiness, and even though they
fought constantly he always saw her more as a friend first, which he
considered healthy in any marriage. She wasn't one to hold in her
feelings. He appreciated that.
a lot," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I've never had men hit me as
hard as she did. Whenever I went into a bar, I didn't have to worry
because she had my back covered."
underneath, wifey fidgeted. The things she and Griffith did together --
get high, get drunk, make love and war -- all were old hat to her. She
needed to be free, to let the colt run and maybe run around in circles
until it was daft. But, at least the result would be her choice. Not her
mother's, not her father's, not her sister's.
It was then
that she met her friend Shawn Dean who, in turn, introduced her to Danny
Garrett. Working late hours as a prostitute in Quay Point, Karla Faye
found Garrett an easy companion. She was free to run around in those
circles. More so, Garrett asked no questions and respected her "career".
Better still, he sustained her habit of pills and powder.
Legal Tactics, Back and
Garrett were indicted for the murders of Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah
Thornton in September, 1983. The alleged killers were tried separately.
Of Karla Faye's trial, the state vowed to its full extent despite her
gender, despite the fact that the death penalty was normally not sought
for female defendants.
records, "(Karla Faye) entered a plea of not guilty and was tried before
a jury in the 180th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas,
Judge Patricia Lykos, presiding. Voir dire (jury selection) commenced on
March 2, 1984, and concluded on April 9. Testimony began on April 11 and
concluded on April 18. Final arguments were heard on April 19, 1984. A
verdict of guilty of the offense of capital murder was returned the same
found guilty, also, in a subsequent court trial. Both he and his
accomplice/girlfriend were sentenced to death before the end of the year.
It had been a set of speedy trials, both party's defense teams unable to
overcome the profusion of witnesses against their clients and the
sickening violence of the crimes.
die in prison not long after his conviction, of liver disease. But,
Karla Faye Tucker would endure a waiting game of appeal after appeal
directed to the state penal directors, to the Supreme Court and
eventually to the Governor of Texas. All bodies would refuse her
requests and George W. Bush, the governor in whose hands clemency rested,
would reject her. The prisoner would spend, in all, 14 years in prison
only to walk the last mile she had tried so long to avoid. She would be
executed February 3, 1998.
sentence, Karla Faye was removed from Houston to death row at Mountain
View Prison in Gatesville, Texas. From the moment of her incarceration
until the day she died, her world would consist of her cell, which she
shared with fellow inmate Pam Perillo, and the cavernous halls of the
single death row building in the Mountain View compound. Besides a few
friendly guards, her only neighbors would be less than ten other women,
like Perillo, slated for the same fate as she: a dose of lethal
injection. Condemned convicts were not allowed to mix with the prison's
general population; the outside world was visible only through the criss-cross
bars of her cell. Its only ingress was the wind and the rain that
sometimes inadvertently blew in through the windowsill.
Her hopes for
release were unrealistic, and she knew it; she had sealed her future
with multiple swipes of a pickaxe on two human beings. But, she [did]
fight to escape her death sentence, her reasoning being that the murder
she committed had not been premeditated, premeditation being a requisite
for capital punishment in Texas. When interviewed by chat-host Larry
King two weeks before her death, she suggested that bad advice from her
lawyers had nudged her into her no-hope predicament.
"I did not
plead guilty at the beginning of my trial," she divulged, "but only
because my attorneys had said not to. If I had that to do again, I would.
"Had she pleaded guilty at the outset, the messy revelations of the
trial would have been avoided, all the bad press and past digging, and
she may have, she believed, drawn a maximum life sentence term.
After all, she
had already confessed before the trial began. As she told King, "(Up to)
that point, I had already admitted what I did...already told the truth
in 1984 by Karla Faye's lawyers for a retrial were denied by Judge Lykos.
Further remonstrations to the Court of Criminal Appeals to overrule
their client's conviction and sentence fell on equally deaf ears in 1987
and 1988. On June 25, 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down her
motion for appeal.
In the face of
these disappointments, Karla Faye and her representing legal team
utilized every lawful channel open to them to rescue her. The 1990s were
to be her battleground, a time when the nation was learning to be more
aware of the rights of Man and the tonsils of the media were sprayed
heavily with the mouthwash of "political correctness". Reform groups in
every state that practiced capital punishment upraised religious and
governmental spokespersons from among their cities to preach the
cruelties and horrors of the electric chair, the gas chamber and the
Karla Faye and
her plight became controversial. Not only did factions question her
legal cause to die (they claimed that the court never proved
premeditation), but while she waited to die, Karla Faye Tucker had found
religion. Even her doubters admitted that her attitude had vastly
changed from the rebellious thing she had been when first hauled into
court. As her battle for life waged on, two sides of the story emerged:
While the one side quipped that anyone on death row would pose
religiously to save their neck, the other answered that that surface
kind of faith could not endure above bitterness, but that, in truth, she
continued to spiritually grow.
But Texas, a
state known for its firm-ground stand on capital punishment, didn't
waver even though -- as its antagonists reminded the state -- it hadn't
executed a woman since the Civil War. According to CourtTV Online, "Applicant
(Tucker) repeatedly sought an evidentiary hearing in the trial court to
address the issues raised (in her earlier petitions)...arguing that the
affidavits submitted by trial counsel were wholly insufficient." In
February 1992, Judge Lykos rejected the request for a new hearing.
Rather, she set a tentative date (June30) for execution.
A month later,
the defense (a pair of new lawyers) won a victory to stay the execution
through the Court of Appeals to give them more time to protest the
latest rulings. "On June 22," CourtTV resumes, " the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals...ordered that an evidentiary hearing be conducted 'at
which time the applicant will have an opportunity to prove allegations
ten through twelve'...of the amended petition. (The allegations cited
that Jimmy Leibrant, who had been with Garrett and Tucker the night of
the murder, and who walked away free, had committed perjury on the
stand.) Although the order directed Judge Lykos to hold an evidentiary
hearing only on the perjury claims, three judges of the Court of
Criminal Appeals were of the view that an evidentiary hearing should
also be conducted on the ineffective assistance of counsel claims...
"On July 6 and
7, 1992, the partial evidentiary hearing was held before Judge Lykos (who)
made it clear that the hearing was limited solely to the evidentiary
matters relating to James Leibrant. On November 19, 1992, (the judge)
filed her 'Supplemental Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and
Order,' which was submitted to the Court of Appeals. (This report)
addressed all of the claims contained in Applicant's pleadings, even
though a hearing was held only on the claims relating to James Leibrant."
meantime, even though a response from the appellate court had not yet
been returned, Judge Lykos again ordered an execution date for Karla
Faye Tucker. Members of the appellate court, in turn, crushed the order
and directed Lykos and the Department of Corrections to honor the stay
of execution in effect until they had made their decision on the
findings of the evidentiary hearing.
It took many
months for an answer to come from the Court of Criminal Appeals, but
when it did it was bad news for the supplicant: They would not alter the
initial verdict, after all. Simultaneously, they lifted her stay of
handling of the evidentiary hearing, coupled with her drive to schedule
a date for execution, riled those in the nation who were campaigning hot
against capital punishment to begin with. With the clock winding down,
Karla Faye's lawyers utilized the little that was left them for reprieve,
doubtlessly hoping that the clamor of public sentiment might aid their
cause to commute her sentence to life. They appealed once again to the
Texas appellates and the district courts in Houston to "challenge the
constitutionality of the state's clemency procedure," says CourtTV
Online. "In the 155-page court document, Tucker's lawyers repeatedly
stressed that (she) was fully rehabilitated (and) posed no future threat
to society." Attached to this petition were sizeable documentia
supporting the premise that, during the years of her incarceration, she
had become a socially safe and faith-conscious citizen.
the package were testimonies of various professionals and laypersons who
had encountered Karla Faye throughout the trial and imprisonment process;
these people offered their opinions on her readjustment to normalcy, her
religious conversion and her present character. Witnesses on her behalf
included, among others, a psychiatrist, a drug-abuse expert, a deputy
sheriff and a prison chaplain. Some clinicians seriously doubted that
she really knew what she was doing the night of the murder because of
the drugs she had taken; others claimed that her formative years led her
head-on into a crash course of some kind that could not have been
the message of the petition - that she was now a God-fearing human being
and model prisoner -- Karla Faye herself wrote a letter addressed
directly to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor George
Bush. Both parties had control over her fate, although the governor
would lack the power of clemency without the majority affirmation of the
the letter, excerpted:
"I am in no
way attempting to minimize the brutality of my crime. It obviously was
very, very horrible and I do take full responsibility for what happened...I
also know that justice and law demand my life for the two innocent lives
I brutally murdered that night. If my execution is the only thing, the
final act that can fulfill the demand for restitution for justice, then
I accept that...I will pay the price for what I did in any way our law
months after I had been locked up, when a ministry came to the jail and
I went to the services, that night accepting Jesus into my heart. When I
did this, the full and overwhelming weight and reality of what I had
done hit me...I began crying that night for the first time in many years,
and to this day, tears are part of my life...
years ago, I was part of the problem. Now I am part of the solution.
purposed to do right for the last 14 years, not because I am in prison,
but because my God demands this of me. I know right from wrong and I
must do right...
really understand the guidelines for commutation of death sentences, but
I can promise you this: If you commute my sentence to life, I will
continue for the rest of my life in this earth to reach out to others to
make a positive difference in their lives.
"I see people
in here in the prison where I am who are here for horrible crimes...I
can reach out to these girls and try to help them change before they
walk out of this place and hurt someone else.
"I am seeking
you to commute my sentence and allow me to pay society back by helping
others. I can't bring back the lives I took. But I can, if I am allowed,
help save lives. That is the only real restitution I can give."
board was unmoved. Governor Bush was unmoved. On January 28, 1998, the
appellate court denied clemency for Karla Faye Tucker.`
was scheduled for the coming week, February 3.
Spite of Hell
author Linda Strom often visited Karla Faye Tucker throughout the last
decade of her life at Mountain View's death row. Strom's recently
published book, Karla Faye Tucker Set Free, relates the inmate's ongoing
conversion to religion and attests that Karla Faye died fully repentant
of her crime.
Strom, Karla Faye had found what she called "the power of forgiveness"
when still in Harris County Jail, Houston, awaiting her sentencing. A
minister had visited the jail and Karla Faye, attending his services,
took a Bible back to her cell more for reading material than as a
gesture of faith. But, over the next few days, reading the Holy Book for
the first time, she began to realize a strength she never thought she
had, enough to carry her through her coming trial and sentencing. By the
time she arrived at death row, she had become a spiritual lift to other
prisoners there, who found her upbeat attitude a light in the dark.
Karla, Strom writes, "Not only did Karla see people, she listened to
them with her head and her heart...Her words - both her spoken ones and
written ones - packed a wallop and were always encouraging."
In 1995, Karla
Faye married Dana Lane Brown, a member of a prison ministry group.
Because she was on death row and not permitted to attend ceremonies,
Brown married her through proxy in Waco, Texas. The event drew media
attention because of the notoriety of capital punishment, Karla Faye
being its inherent spokesperson. She had already been the subject of
much print expended on the cause from columnists, women's rights
activists and politicians, both for and against the issue. During her
confinement, she had been visited by various celebrities who believed
her conversion to be genuine, including ex-Miss America and broadcaster
Terry Meeuwsen, and author of Dead Man Walking, Catholic nun Sister
championed her cause, and so did evangelist Pat Robertson. Robertson
tried for five years to remove her from death row, his efforts
culminating with a plea for her life on a live television broadcast. At
a press conference hosted by the Christian Broadcasting Network, he said,
"I am one who has supported the death penalty for hardened criminals.
But I do think that any justice system that is worthy of the name must
have room for mercy...In the case of Karla Faye Tucker, she is not the
same person who committed those heinous ax murders...She is totally
transformed, and I think to execute her is more an act of vengeance than
it is appropriate justice."
A frequent and
surprising visitor to Mountain View Prison was Ron Carlson, brother of
Karla Faye Tucker's female victim, Deborah Thornton. At first a rabid
crusader for her death, Carlson, like Tucker, found religion and, in the
His story is
highlighted in the 1999 video, The Power of Forgiveness, produced by
Gateway Films and presented by Vision Video. The documentary traces
Carlson's life his experiences from the anguish he suffered when first
learning of his sister's murder and climaxes when he visits an
unexpected Karla Faye Tucker in prison.
"It made me
sick to know what they did to my sister," Carlson recalls his feelings
the day after the killing. "The bodies were mutilated...some twenty-five
to thirty puncture wounds on each body...My sister was in the wrong
place at the wrong time."
months of wishing, night and day, that he would someday have the
opportunity to kill Karla Faye; he wished he could have her at his mercy,
with a pickaxe in his hands. Already having experimented with drugs, the
loathing drove him deeper into the practice until his life no longer
resembled what it had been before the tragedy.
States he: "I
knew I had to do something with the hatred and the anger that was within
me. It was consuming me."
did the woman he despised, he found his faith in the Bible. Reading
about the crucifixion of Christ, he realized the reality of the tests
everyone is put to in this life. "I learned that if I want to be
forgiven, I must learn to forgive," he attests.
audience with Karla Faye who hadn't known who he was until he identified
himself, he leaned toward the Plexiglas window, which separated inmates
from their callers, then gently told her who he was and that he forgave
her for what she had done. "She cried," says Carlson.
From that one
visit they became friends; he visited her often at Mountain View.
The video also
examines the flip side of this human reaction through Deborah Thornton's
husband, Richard. Until the day Karla Faye was executed, Richard was her
most outspoken adversary. On the day she died, he led a group of friends
and relatives to the walls beyond the prison to jeer and cheer; handmade
signs held aloft directed the condemned inmate to: Have a Nice Day,
To a cluster
of reporters Richard appraised the situation. "This is the day Karla
Faye Tucker will die...This is Deborah Thornton Day...What goes around,
And of her
religious conversion, he scoffed. Pointing to the crowds behind him, he
replied, "If everyone of you were to get transcripts of the 1984 trial
and compare it to what Karla Faye Tucker says today you'd have no
problem understanding that that woman is lying."
An Eye for
February 3, 1998, Governor George W. Bush closed the door on the last
breath of hope for Karla Faye. He denied a 30-day delay to the execution
set for later that evening. A press release issued from the Governor's
Mansion stated, "Many people have contacted my office about this
execution. I respect (their) strong convictions (but) Karla Faye Tucker
has acknowledged she is guilty of a horrible crime. She was convicted
and sentenced by a jury of her peers. The role of the state is to
enforce our laws...The courts, including the United States Supreme Court,
have reviewed the legal issues in this case, and therefore I will not
grant a 30-day stay. May God bless Karla Faye Tucker and may God bless
her victims and their families."
Tucker died an hour later.
for her death, while the reprieve from the governor was still pending,
officials removed the prisoner from Mountain View and delivered her by
plane to Huntsville State Prison, where the state's execution chamber is
located. Chatting briefly with reporters, she remained what CNN U.S.
News termed "upbeat," dining on a last meal comprised of "a banana, a
peach and a salad". With her were her husband Dana Brown and a few
family members and friends. Visibly comforting her as the appointed time
of her execution (6:30 p.m. CST) drew near was Ron Carlson, Deborah
Thornton's forgiving brother. Dressed in the white uniform of Mountain
View, Karla Faye had declined donning the orange work suits usually worn
by condemned prisoners in Huntsville.
to her death would be a lethal injection, a blend of quick-acting
barbiturate and paralytic drug, fed intravenously. Texas, which adopted
this form of capital punishment in 1977, is one of 27 states employing
it. Other states utilize electric voltage, gas, rope or firing squad as
API writer Michael Graczyk, "Asked what her thoughts would be when
strapped to the death chamber gurney, (Karla Faye) replied, 'I'm
certainly going to be thinking about what it's like in heaven.'"
received the news of Governor Bush's rejection at approximately 5:25
p.m., at which time it was relayed to Karla Faye. She was given solitude
to pray and bid goodbye to her intimate company. Before the hour ended,
prison personnel and a minister approached her cell to lead her through
a white-washed door at the farthest end of the corridor. Beyond that
door, was the death chamber.
It is a
cubicle really, of sterile white and bright lights, resembling a
doctor's examining room, but with one-way viewing glass on two sides for
spectators and a stark array of paraphernalia whose purpose is not
while her loved ones peered in sorrowfully from one waiting area,
opposite them stood members of her victim's families, feeling less pity.
Allowed a moment for last words, she sat on the gurney to which, in a
few moments she would be bound with leather restraining straps, and
addressed reflective windows knowing that beyond their glare waited and
watched those with tears and those without.
"I would like
to say to all of you, the Thornton family and Jerry Dean's family, that
I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this." She then
whispered a farewell to her husband and thanked the warden for his
kindness to her in her last hours.
Even as she
was uttering her final good-byes, the attendants were already attaching
the tubes to her wrists and buckling her. "When she was finished, Ms.
Tucker closed her eyes, licked her lips and appeared to say a silent
prayer," Graczyk noted. "She coughed twice, groaned softly and went
silent as the drugs took effect."