Karla Faye Tucker was convicted of murder in Texas in 1984 and put to death fourteen years later. She was the first woman to be executed in the United States since 1984, and the first in Texas since 1863. Because of her gender and widely publicized conversion to Christianity, she inspired an unusually large national and international movement advocating the commutation of her sentence to life imprisonment, a movement which included a few foreign government officials.
Early Life of Karla Faye Tucker
Karla Faye Tucker was born and raised in Houston, Texas, the youngest of three sisters. Her father Larry was a longshoreman on the Gulf of Mexico. The marriage of her parents was very troubled, and Tucker started smoking with her sisters when she was eight years old. At the age of 10, her parents divorced, and during the divorce proceedings, she learned that she had been the result of an extramarital affair.
By age 12, she had turned to drugs and sex. When she was 14, she dropped out of school and followed her mother Carolyn, a rock groupie, into prostitution and began traveling with the Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, and the Eagles. At age 16, she was married briefly to a mechanic named Stephen Griffith. In her early 20;s, she began hanging out with bikers, and met a woman named Shawn Dean and her husband Jerry Lynn Dean, who introduced her to a man named Danny Garrett in 1981.
After having spent the weekend doing drugs with her boyfriend Danny Garrett and their friends, Karla Faye Tucker and Garrett entered Jerry Dean’s home around 3 am on Monday June 14th in 1983 intending to steal Dean’s motorcycle. James Leibrant, a friend, went with them to Dean’s apartment complex.
Leibrant reported that he went looking for Dean’s El Camino while Karla Faye and Garrett entered the apartment with a set of keys that Tucker claimed Shawn Dean had lost and Tucker had found.
During the burglary, Tucker and Garrett entered Dean’s bedroom, where Karla Faye Tucker sat on him. In an effort to protect himself, Dean grabbed Tucker above the elbows, whereupon Garrett intervened. Garrett struck Dean numerous times in the back of the head with a hammer he found on the floor. After hitting Dean, Garrett left the room to carry motorcycle parts out of the apartment. Tucker remained in the bedroom.
The blows Garrett had dealt Dean caused his head to become unhinged from his neck and his breathing passages to fill with fluid. He began making a “gurgling” sound characteristic of this type of injury. Karla Faye Tucker wanted to “stop him from making that noise” and attacked him with a pick ax. Garrett then re-entered the room and dealt Dean a final blow in the chest.
On To Victim Two
Garrett left the bedroom again so as to continue loading Dean’s motorcycle parts into his Ranchero. Karla Faye Tucker was once again left in the room and only then noticed a woman who had hidden under the bed covers against the wall. The woman, Deborah Thornton, had met Dean at a party earlier that afternoon. Upon discovering Thornton, Tucker grazed her shoulder with the pick ax. Thornton and Tucker began to struggle, but Garrett returned and separated them. Tucker proceeded to hit Thornton repeatedly with the pick ax and then embedded the ax in her heart. Karla Faye Tucker would later tell friends and testify that she experienced intense multiple orgasms with each blow of the pick ax.
The next morning, a co-worker of Dean’s who had been waiting for a ride entered the apartment and discovered the victims’ bodies. Investigation led to the arrests of Tucker and Garrett.
In September 1983, Karla Faye Tucker and Garrett were indicted and tried separately for the murders. Tucker entered a plea of not guilty and was jailed awaiting trial. Soon after being imprisoned, Tucker took a Bible from the prison ministry program and read it in her cell. She later recalled, “I didn’t know what I was reading. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of my cell floor on my knees. I was just asking God to forgive me.” Tucker became a Christian in October 1983. She later married her prison minister, the Reverend Dana Lane Brown, and held her Christian wedding ceremony inside the prison.
The Conviction of Karla Faye Tucker
Though the death penalty was hardly ever sought for female defendants, Karla Faye Tucker, along with Garrett, was sentenced to death in late 1984. Garrett died in prison of liver disease in 1993.
Between 1984 and 1992, requests for a retrial and appeals were denied, but on June 22, Tucker requested that her life be spared on the basis that she was under the influence of drugs at the time of the murders, she would not have committed the murders had she not taken drugs and she was now a reformed person. Her plea drew support from abroad and also from some leaders of American conservatism. The warden of Texas’s Huntsville prison testified that she was a model prisoner and that, after 14 years on death row, she likely had been reformed.
Model prisoner or not, the board turned her down on January 28th 1998.
The Execution of Karla Faye Tucker
While on death row, Karla Faye Tucker was incarcerated in the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas. She became Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Death Row #777.
On February 2 1998, state authorities took Tucker from the unit in Gatesville and flew her on a TDCJ aircraft, transporting her to the Huntsville Unit in Huntsville. Karla Faye Tucker’s last meal request consisted of a banana, a peach, and a garden salad with ranch dressing.
She selected five people to watch her die, including Thornton’s husband Richard and his two stepchildren, who supported the death penalty, and Thornton’s brother Ronald Carlson, who opposed the execution and had been converted by her faith after visiting Tucker on death row. 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.(She looked at her husband) Baby, I love you. (Karla looked at Ronald Carlson) Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. (She looked at all present weeping and smiling) 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.”
She was executed by lethal injection the next day. As the lethal chemicals were being administered she was praising Jesus Christ. Eight minutes after receiving injection, she was pronounced dead at 6:45 pm. She was the first woman executed in the State of Texas in 135 years.
credit murderpedia / wikipedia