Karla Faye Tucker, justice delayed?

 

Background.
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.

The murders.
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 Deanís 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 pickaxe."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 pickaxe 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
Thorntonís bodies.

Arrest and trial.
Daniel Garrett was arrested after a tip off on
July 20, 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 11, 1984 before a jury of 8 women and 4 men, presided over by a female judge. Albert Sheenan admitted having gone to Dean's apartment but denied any part in the murders. He testified against both defendants.
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 9 and was addicted to heroin at 10. 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 three hours on
April 25, 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.

"PICKAXE MURDERESS SENTENCED TO DIE"
On 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.)

Execution.
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, February 2, 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 had 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 judgments 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 sideboards 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 Deanís family that I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this.Ē

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. Iím going to be face to face with Jesus now.Ē
"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 6:45 p.m., eight minutes later. Her eyes were open and still staring at the ceiling.

Richard Thornton, the victimís husband, and her son, Bucky David, 24, and stepdaughter, 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 weíre all going to go to sometime, some place my wife already is. She will deal with Karla Faye Tucker. I promise you, it wonít be pretty." He also dismissed Ms. Tuckerís apology to his family as "staged." "I donít believe in her Christianity. I donít believe in her conversion" he said.

Outside the prison there were demonstrations by both pro and anti capital punishment groups.

Karla Faye Tucker - her own thoughts.
On January 18, 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 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 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 Ďschool meí 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 donít 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 victimís family members (it was for Deborahís 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 donít really understand why you canít or wonít consider my change for the good in my favor."

"I donít 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 canít 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."

Comment.
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 wholeheartedly 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 is 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.
Thirty seven 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 barbaric.
Surprisingly, the only retentionist country that expressly forbids the execution of women is Pakistan.
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 December 17th 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?
As there was no doubt of her guilt, why wasnít she executed in 1984 when she was still the same person who committed those crimes and when her execution might have had some positive effect?
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 trying to rehabilitate 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 overall tragedy.

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 victimís 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 their sentence.

Justice delayed is justice denied!

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