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.
“ 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 am 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. ”
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 1998 - FACT SHEET ON KARLA FAYE TUCKER
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 following:
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. After 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 every stroke. 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 moved. 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 skull fracture. 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 injection. 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 (1997).
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. (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 Monday. 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 in 1983.
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." Brown 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 conversion. 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 clemency. 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 accept that."
"Texas Executes Tucker," by Rebecca Leung. (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 without parole. 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. His television 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 unusual. 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 78,067. 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 chance.”
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.
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 times. 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 capital punishment. 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 deathbed apology. 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 commutation. 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 twice.
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. (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. Her 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 religious conversion.
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. (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 1863. 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 background. 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 in Copenhagen.
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. (Link to summary and full text of 150 page Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed in 1998 on behalf of Karla Faye Tucker)
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 murders. 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 procedure. 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 society.
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. Tucker 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.