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Profile: Facing death with memories of murder

In this story:

(CNN) -- Karla Faye Tucker admits that nearly 15 years ago, she helped murder two people with a pickax. And she says that a few months later, she became a Christian.

Tucker
Tucker  

Tucker, 38, now wants the result of the conversion -- a clean life -- to spare her from the result of the killings: her own death, scheduled for Tuesday.

The slim, brown-eyed brunette refuses to talk about her specific memories of the June 1983 night that she and her boyfriend barged into the Houston, Texas, home of Jerry Lynn Dean.

"The details of what happened that night, I don't share," Tucker told CNN's Larry King in a January 14 interview on death row at Texas' Mountain View Unit in Gatesville.

The details shocked the nation. She and Daniel Garrett, both high on drugs for days, went to "case the joint" for robbery when they entered Dean's home.

The Texas "rap sheet," the state Department of Criminal Justice's inmate case brief, summarizes her testimony: Garrett bashed Dean in the head with a hammer, and Tucker grabbed a pickax to silence a "gurgling sound" Dean was making.

victims
Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton  

Tucker and Garrett also attacked Deborah Thornton, a friend of Dean's, with the pickax. Both bodies had more than 20 stab wounds. Tucker said she felt each stroke sexually, a claim she later recanted.

She was convicted and sentenced to death in Dean's killing. Garrett was also convicted and sentenced to death; he died in prison in 1993.

"I can't -- I can't make sense out of it," Tucker told King of the murders.

Top graphic

Tucker Profile:
Facing death with memories of murder

Transcripts:
Larry King interviews Tucker
Larry King debate on Tucker case

Statistics:
Women on Death Row

Poll:
Should gender be an issue?

Message Board:
Debating the death penalty

Excerpts:
Tucker's letter seeking reprieve

Having faith in her faith

But she can make sense of what religion has done for her. Pointing to her faith and clean prison record, she claims she no longer meets a key finding for sentencing someone to death in Texas -- posing a threat to society.

"If there is a change for the positive, and it's proven, and it's factual, why can't that be considered" in her plea to be spared lethal injection, she asked on "Larry King Live."

Her husband, Dana Brown, is just one of many supporters convinced her conversion is genuine. He was doing prison ministry when he met her, and married her by proxy in 1995.

Thornton's own brother, Ron Carlson, wants her spared. Her supporter with perhaps the biggest marquee value is former presidential candidate Pat Robertson.

To opponents, including Thornton's widowed husband Richard, the issue is not as simple as excusing her from execution.

They note that if her sentence were commuted to life, she could be eligible for parole in five years. And they dismiss her willingness to forgo parole as a ploy outside Texas law.

Gender bias in Texas?

Then, many observers suggest she's only getting sympathy as the first woman to be executed in Texas since the Civil War, and only the second in the nation since a 1976 Supreme Court decision reinstated the death penalty.

Tucker claims her gender may be more hindrance than help.

"This gender issue is almost forcing their hand to say, 'we're not going to let a woman get by with it'" and be spared, Tucker told King.

Learning to value life

The woman once capable of extreme brutality now not only rejects the death penalty, she also opposes abortion and euthanasia. She even wants her own child.

Tucker says she wants to live to minister to other prisoners who are as lost as she was. But she placed little value even on her own life before her conversion.

"I didn't care about anybody. I didn't care about myself," she told King.

When she was very young, she said, her mother told her she could grow up to become anything. But her mother also gave her little guidance, and encouraged her to be a prostitute as a teen-ager. Her father, by then, wasn't on the scene.

Tucker recalled using marijuana and heroin for years before that. She dropped out of school. By the time of the murders, she was trying to impress a rough crowd.

She told King it was "inevitable that something like that was going to happen in my life," given her circumstances.

"I not only didn't walk around without any guilt, I was proud of thinking that I had finally measured up to the big boys," she said.

Then, in the fall of 1983, she stole a Bible after a prison ministry program, took it to her cell and began to read -- and realize what she had done.

"I didn't know what I was reading and before I knew it, I was just -- I was in the middle of my floor on my knees and I was just asking God to forgive me."

Now more than 14 years later, Tucker was clinging to that turn-about, as she stared February 3 in the face.

"It's a blessing to be a part of it," she told King of her case, "and it's exciting to know that God has a plan for this."


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