Death row prisoners kill me (pun). In fact prisoners in general are hard to believe when it comes to “finding God” within prison walls. I mean, what have you got to lose when you’re trying to either get off death row or get out on parole except to discover the Lord? No doubt, they also hope this approach sits well with the parole board committee. Karla Faye Tucker was a member of the Christians Behind Bars Club. After committing a heinous crime while under the influence of an insane amount of narcotics, this woman tried to convince a nation she was reformed through religion. In fact, her widely publicized conversion to Christianity inspired an unusually large national and international movement advocating the commutation of her sentence to life imprisonment. Even a few foreign government officials hopped on board the Karla train. Karla Faye should be awarded a posthumous Academy Award.
Childhood and Early Life
Karla Faye was born on November 18, 1959, in Houston, Texas, the youngest of three sisters, to decidedly unfit parents. She and her sisters began smoking marijuana when Karla was 8. By the time little Karla was 10 she was shooting heroin. The heroin use may have resulted from the unfortunate revelation that she was not her father’s biological child, but rather the result of her mother’s adulterous affair. By age 12, she turned to drugs and sex. When she was 14, she dropped out of school and followed her mother Carolyn, a rock groupie, into prostitution. The two began traveling with the Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, and the Eagles. Truly it doesn’t get any better for a teenage girl. Her groupie lifestyle lasted only 2 years. At age 16, she and Mommy Dearest parted ways, and Karla was briefly married to a mechanic named Stephen Griffith. In her early 20s, she began hanging out with bikers and met a woman named Shawn Dean and her husband Jerry Lynn Dean. In 1981, Karla Faye was still a “wild child” and, like her friends, prostituting herself for drugs. Dean introduced Karla to a man named Danny Garrett. It was this fateful encounter that led to the crimes she would commit within two years of meeting Garrett. She should have stuck with the Eagles.
Murder of Jerry Lynn Dean
Karla Faye and Garrett spent the weekend of June 12 – 13, 1983 doing copious amounts of drugs that included speed, pills, heroin and alcohol. Karla Faye admitted that, on Monday June 14, 1983, lost in a haze of drugs, she and Garrett became bored and began “looking for something to do.” Karla Faye and Garrett attended Jerry Dean’s home around 3 a.m. ostensibly to steal Dean’s motorcycle. Karla Faye was revealed to hate Dean, accusing him of destroying pictures of her and her mother. James Leibrant, a friend went with them to Dean’s apartment. Leibrant reported that he went looking for Dean’s El Camino while Karla Faye and Garrett entered the apartment with a set of keys Karla Faye claimed she had found. During the burglary, Karla Faye and Garrett entered Dean’s bedroom, where she sat on him. In an effort to protect himself, Dean grabbed Karla Faye above the elbows, whereupon Garrett intervened, striking 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. Karla remained calmly 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 wanted to “stop him from making that noise” and attacked him with a pickaxe. Garrett then re-entered the room and dealt Dean a final blow in the chest.
Murder of Deborah Thornton
Garrett left the bedroom again so as to continue loading Dean’s motorcycle parts into his Ranchero. Karla Faye was once again left in the room and only then noticed a woman who had hidden under the bed covers against the wall. Deborah Thornton, a married woman had met Dean at a party earlier that afternoon. Upon discovering Thornton, Karla Faye grazed her shoulder with the pickaxe. The two women struggled, but Garrett returned and separated them. Karla Faye hit Thornton repeatedly with the pickaxe. The pain was so excruciating that during the attack Thornton begged Karla Faye to kill her. Karla Faye finally accommodated her poor victim and embedded the axe in her heart. Karla Faye later told friends and testified she experienced intense multiple orgasms with each blow of the pickaxe. Karla Faye doesn’t sound too godly to me. 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 Karla Faye and Garrett.
In September 1983, Karla Faye and Garrett were indicted on first degree murder charges and tried separately. Karla Faye entered a plea of not guilty and was jailed awaiting trial. Soon after being imprisoned, Karla Faye 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.“ Karla Faye 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. You’ve go to wonder about some of those reverends.
Though the death penalty was hardly ever sought for female defendants, Karla Faye, 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, Karla Faye 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. Let’s get this one straight: while under the influence of the plethora of narcotics Karla Faye voluntarily took, since she went and killed someone while under the influence of narcotics she voluntarily took, it’s ultimately not her fault because of the influence of the narcotics she voluntarily took? I believe that’s known as circular reasoning. That and make-believe.
Prominent Public Support
This is where the whole Karla and the sensationalism of her Christianity conversion gets unreal. Among those who appealed to the State of Texas on her behalf were the UN commissioner on summary and arbitrary executions; the World Council of Churches; Pope John Paul II; Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi; Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich; televangelist Pat Robertson and Ronald Carlson, the brother of murder victim Debbie Thornton. Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfara, noted with disapproval in a public speech that capital punishment supporters outside a Texas prison had cheered when Karla Faye was executed. “And we are on the threshold of 2,000 years of Christ!” he exclaimed. In England, Bishop Richard Harries of the Diocese of Oxford reported that a gospel singer’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” was shouted down by cries of “kill the bitch!” from the pro-death penalty crowd that gathered outside of the prison.
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. That astounds me. Who knew such prominent and religious figures would back Karla Faye Tucker in light of her heinous crimes? The governor of Texas, none other than George W. Bush, wasn’t convinced. Her death sentence wasn’t overturned. Never thought I’d see reason in anything old Bush did. There’s always a first. One year after Karla Faye’s execution, Carlson alleged that Bush, alluding to a televised interview which Karla Faye had given to talk show host Larry King, smirked and spoke mockingly about her. Back to square one.
She selected four people to watch her die which included her sister Kari Weeks, her spouse Dana Brown, her close friend Jackie Oncken, and Ronald Carlson. The witnesses for the victims included Thornton’s husband Richard, who agreed passionately with the decision to execute Karla Faye. “What mercy did she show my wife?” he was quoted as saying. I can’t help but agree. Thornton’s only child William Joseph Davis and his stepdaughter Katie were in attendance. Karla Faye’s execution was witnessed by members of TDCJ, Warden Bagget, and various representatives of the media. 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. (She 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 on February 3, 1998. As the lethal chemicals were being administered she was praising Jesus Christ. Eight minutes after receiving injection, she was pronounced dead at 6:45pm CST. She was the first woman executed in the State of Texas in 135 years.