Karla Faye Tucker was a US citizen who was executed in 1998 for brutally hacking two people to death in Texas, during a botched robbery. She was the first woman to be executed in the US since 1984, and in Texas since 1863. The case led to a media frenzy, especially after Tucker embraced Christianity inside the prison. Pleading for clemency, she stated that she would never have committed such a heinous crime if she was sober. She also claimed that Christianity had transformed her, promising that she would make a constructive contribution in other people's lives if her sentence was commuted. Despite tremendous support from various important quarters, including politicians, religious leaders, activists and even the brother of one of the victims, all appeals for mercy were rejected and she was executed by lethal injection 14 years after committing the murders.
Childhood & Early Life
Karla Faye Tucker was born on November 18, 1959, in Houston, Texas, where she grew up as well. She had two elder sisters.
Her father Larry worked as a longshoreman, while her mother Carolyn was a groupie who often abused drugs. Her parents divorced when she was just 10. By the time she was 12, she became sexually active and started taking drugs.
At the age of 14, she stopped going to school and got into prostitution just like her mother. The mother-daughter duo travelled with the Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, and the Eagles. Her mother died when Tucker was 20.
At 16, she married a mechanic called Stephen Griffith. The marriage ended after a few years.
In her early 20s, she became friends with a woman called Shawn and her husband Jerry Lynn Dean, who later became one of her victims. The couple introduced Tucker to Daniel Garrett, 14 years her senior, and the two began to date.
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On June 13, 1983, Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Garrett, high on a potent cocktail of methadone, Valium, heroin, marijuana, and alcohol, entered Dean's house along with their friend James Liebrandt to steal Dean's motorcycle. Dean and Shawn had become estranged by then and Tucker disliked him.
Tucker had the keys to Dean’s apartment, who woke up when they entered. Garrett grabbed a hammer and hit Dean in the back of the head numerous times. He then left the room.
Meanwhile, Tucker found a pickaxe in the room and kept hitting Dean until he was silent. Garrett came back and dealt a final blow to his chest. He then left the room again.
That is when Tucker noticed a woman named Deborah Ruth Thornton, 32, hidden under the bedcovers against a wall. Thornton, who had argued with her husband the previous day, had gone to a party and ended up spending the night with Dean. Tucker rained pickaxe blows onto her, leaving the weapon embedded in her chest.
The pair then proceeded to steal Dean's money and car and left.
Next morning, Dean’s co-worker Gregory Scott Traver discovered the bodies. Following a month-long police investigation, Tucker and Garrett were arrested on July 20, 1983.
Trial & Conviction
Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Garrett were tried separately. The charges for Deborah’s murder were dropped after Tucker testified against Garrett, who was not charged with the murder either.
The defense called no witnesses; and in April 1984, Tucker was found guilty of Dean's murder and was sentenced to death.
Garrett was sentenced to death as well but he died of liver disease in 1993.
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Between 1984 and 1992, several requests and appeals for a retrial were denied. Meanwhile, in the prison, Tucker became a devout Christian.
In 1995, she married prison minister Reverend Dana Lane Brown.
Her plea for mercy drew support from all over the world, including the World Council of Churches, Pope John Paul II and even Ronald Carlson, victim Deborah's brother.
All appeals were rejected and hours before her execution, the then Texas Governor, George W. Bush, turned down her last appeal.
Karla Faye Tucker spent 14 years at the Mountain View unit of Gatesville penitentiary and was executed 175 miles away, at Huntsville.
On February 3, 1998, though at peace, she hardly touched her last meal - a banana, a peach, and a salad with ranch dressing. She wrote a letter and met her husband Brown and a spiritual adviser, for half an hour each.
After 6.20 pm, Tucker changed into fresh prison clothes, climbed up the gurney without help and was strapped down. Catheters were inserted into the veins of each of her arms and she was wheeled into the execution chamber at 6.35 pm.
In her final statement, she said she was going to meet Jesus, apologised to the victims' families, told her husband that she loved him, and thanked everyone present for taking care of her.
Deborah's husband Richard Thornton, her brother Carlson, her son Bucky David and stepdaughter Kathryn Thornton, Tucker's sister Kari Weeks, spouse Dana Brown and close friend Jackie Oncken were among those who watched the execution.
Lethal drugs were injected into her veins at 6.37 pm, and she was pronounced dead eight minutes later. She was buried at the Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery in Houston.
Family & Personal Life
Karla Faye Tucker was married to mechanic Stephen Griffith during her teens, but their marriage didn’t last long.
She later married prison minister Reverend Dana Lane Brown.