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Clemency decision due Monday for woman on Texas death row

Karla Faye Tucker
Karla Faye Tucker

Lethal injection set for Tuesday

In this story: February 1, 1998
Web posted at: 8:28 p.m. EDT (2028 GMT)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (CNN) -- The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles will decide Monday whether Karla Faye Tucker should be executed by lethal injection Tuesday for her role in the murder of two people with a pickax in 1983.

Attorneys for Tucker, 38 -- whose struggle to avoid execution has turned her into a media celebrity and drawn high-profile support -- have asked the board to commute her sentence to life in prison, saying she is a changed woman and a model prisoner who deserves clemency.

But the 18-member board has never recommended the commutation of a death sentence for humanitarian reasons, and even Tucker's attorneys say they think it is unlikely the board will grant the request.

In her last scheduled interview, Tucker, who has become a born-again Christian, said she is not afraid to die.

"I know where I'm going. I know that Jesus has already gone to prepare a place for me," she told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

She has already ordered her last meal: a tossed salad, a banana and peaches.

Texas executed last woman in 1863

protest
In Texas those who favor Tucker's execution are a minority

If Tucker dies as scheduled Tuesday, she will be the first woman put to death in Texas since Chipita Rodriguez was hung in 1863 for killing a horse trader with an ax.

Texas has not shown similar reticence about executing men. Last year alone, the state put 37 men to death, the most in the state's history in one year and far more than any other U.S. state. And since 1982, 144 men have been executed.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only one woman has been executed anywhere in the United States -- Velma Barfield in North Carolina in 1984.

But Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a supporter of capital punishment who has never pardoned a condemned killer, insists that gender should not play a role in carrying out death sentences.

"I don't think that gender is relevant on a murder. I mean, a murder is a murder," Bush told CBN.

Bush's decision waits on Supreme Court

Death chamber
Death chamber

If a majority on the parole board agrees to commute Tucker's sentence, that recommendation would then go to Bush for the final decision. But last year, in 16 separate commutation requests, not a single board member voted in favor of a commutation.

If the parole board turns down the request, Bush could stay the execution for 30 days and ask them to reconsider. Most of the members of the parole board were appointed by Bush.

Tucker's attorneys also have launched a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the procedures that Texas has set up to consider commutation requests are unconstitutional. They have asked the high court to stay her execution while that case is heard.

A spokesman for Bush said Sunday that the governor would hold off on making any decision in the Tucker case until the Supreme Court rules.

In December, the Supreme Court refused to hear an earlier appeal by Tucker.

Double murder happened during burglary

Murder scene
Tucker and Daniel Garrett killed two people with a pickax in 1983

Back in 1983, Tucker, who was a drug addict and had been a teen-age prostitute, helped Daniel Garrett kill two people during a burglary in Houston. They used a pickax. One of the victims had 24 wounds, and the 3-foot-long ax was left sticking in one of the bodies.

Garrett also was convicted and sentenced to death. He died from liver disease while in prison.

But once Tucker was in prison, she got off drugs, found religion and married a prison chaplain. She has been a model prisoner, and she says she wants to be spared execution so that she can help others.

"God reached down inside of me and just literally uprooted all of that stuff and took it out and poured himself into me," Tucker told CNN's "Larry King Live."

Her case has generated an unlikely alliance between religious conservatives -- who usually support the death penalty but believe, in this case, that the redeemed Tucker should live -- and groups that oppose the death penalty under all circumstances.

Pat Robertson, the televangelist and former GOP presidential candidate, has championed her cause. Others who have spoken out against the execution include the conservative Rutherford Foundation, Pope John Paul II, Amnesty International and even some relatives of the victims.

Two recent newspaper polls show that despite Texans' support for capital punishment, those who favor Tucker's execution are a minority.

Victim's husband supports execution

Tony Thornton
Tony Thornton wants Karla Faye Tucker to die

But leading the charge in favor of carrying out Tucker's sentence is Tony Thornton, whose wife was one of her victims. He says he and his two children deserve justice.

"We've had to live with this monster in front of us, in clear view, for all this time, while she has had her teeth fixed so she looks good on death row," he said. "On February 4, my wife, instead of being killed every day for 14 1/2 years, will finally be laid to rest."

Officials at the state prison in Huntsville, where the execution will take place if it proceeds as scheduled, are bracing for a media onslaught. Fifty special telephone lines were set up outside the prison to accommodate media organizations.

Several hundred reporters and photographers are expected to cover the execution. Hotel rooms in Huntsville, about 80 miles north of Houston, are at a premium.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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