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Texas prepares to execute woman

Governor asked to show mercy

January 15, 1998
Web posted at: 8:15 p.m. EST (0115 GMT)

From CNN correspondent Charles Zewe

Karla Faye Tucker   

GATESVILLE, Texas (CNN) -- Since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States 22 years ago, just one woman has been executed.

Now Texas, which put 37 men to death last year, is preparing to execute Karla Faye Tucker -- its first execution of a female in 135 years.

Tucker, 38, is scheduled to die by lethal injection February 3. An ex-drug abuser and prostitute, Tucker admits taking part in the pick-ax murders of Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton of Houston in June 1983.

"It's horrible," Tucker says. "I mean, to know that you take a human life -- a very valuable, precious human life."

Governor asked to show mercy

But she told CNN's Larry King that her 15 years in prison changed her. She says she has found religion and deserves clemency because, "I am no longer a continual threat to society."

Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton   

More than 700 letters about Tucker have poured into Texas Governor George Bush's office. Most are from out of state and most ask him to show her mercy.

Religious leaders, including Pat Robertson, are urging a reprieve. That is a possible political problem for Bush, who's courting the religious right in a potential presidential bid.

A national unease

Tucker's claim of being a changed woman has exposed a national uneasiness about executing women and raised questions about whether the death penalty is applied equally to men and women.

Seven women, including Tucker, and 437 men await execution in Texas. Nationally, women are arrested for one of every eight murders, but make up only one of every 70 inmates on death row.

Richard Hawkins, a sociology professor at Southern Methodist University, says, "We have this attitude in America of chauvinism ...of protection of women in the criminal justice system. The presumption is they can't form the intent -- they can't do anything that bad."

Tucker and King
Tucker speaking with CNN's Larry King   

J.C. Mosier, the detective who cracked the murder, is torn over Tucker's fate.

"If you deserve to die for a crime you committed, then certainly this is the crime for the death penalty," he said. But Mosier believes Tucker is a different woman.

Joe Magliolo, who prosecuted her, agrees. But he still thinks she should die.

"I'm very happy that she's had the last 15 years to get right with her maker ... unfortunately the victims in this case, Jimmy Dean and Deborah Thornton, maybe had 15 seconds."

Tucker has until January 27 to ask for clemency. Over the last 20 years, however, the Texas Pardons Board has never commuted a death sentence.

"I've always believed the death penalty will deter death. It'll save some victim," the governor said.

If Bush saves her, Tucker will be eligible for parole in five years. She says she's putting her trust in God.

"Whatever he wants to do with my life now, I'll walk that with him; whatever he chooses. I'm just thankful I got a chance."


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