Did Tucker Really Deserve Our Pity?
The protesters have left Texas for home, the journalists have moved on to bigger news and Karla Faye Tucker has gone on, presumably, to meet her maker.
And we are left behind, still wrestling with the tangle of emotions unleashed during her very public and very personal fight for her life.
Doe-eyed and diminutive, the curly haired Tucker was once one of Houston’s most notorious killers. But she entered America’s consciousness as the most committed of Christians.
And her dual identity fueled a tortured national debate that reflects our moral, intellectual and emotional discomfort with capital punishment.
It’s not so hard to know how you feel . . . in the abstract.
I oppose executions for all the right reasons: What if we kill an innocent man? Why do only the poor wind up on death row? Should the state really have the right to kill?
But if it had been my mother or sister or daughter left dead, with a pickax protruding from her chest . . . well, I would have been the first in line to watch Tucker die.
When the abstract becomes personal, our emotions intervene and issues once clear become cloudy.
That’s why suddenly people who for years hewed to the hardest of lines, using the Bible as their guide (an eye for an eye, and all that), were pleading for mercy for “poor Karla Faye"--a double murderer condemned to die.
By now, the story of her heinous crime--and her amazing redemption--has become American folklore.
She was introduced to drugs and prostitution by her mother as a child. And in 1983, the 23-year-old Tucker and her biker boyfriend--both hopped up on speed--broke into a rival’s apartment to steal motorcycle parts. They wound up hacking the man and his female companion to death with a pickax.
Later, the pair boasted about the hourlong rampage, and Tucker bragged that she got a sexual rush each time she landed a blow. It took police a month to find and arrest them. Both were tried, convicted and sentenced to death.
But while Tucker was awaiting trial, a visit from a prison ministry group led to a jailhouse conversion that convinced even skeptics of Tucker’s rehabilitation, and spawned an eclectic coalition--from prison guards to prominent preachers--that lobbied to save her life.
And somehow, in the public mind, she ceased to be the perpetrator of a gruesome double murder and became the Sunday school teacher at our local church.
On radio talk shows, in newspaper interviews, on the television news . . . all those references to “poor Karla Faye,” like she was a neighbor down the street or your local coffee shop waitress.
There were callers in tears, questioning their commitment to capital punishment if it meant killing “people like that.”
“I just want to take her in my arms,” one woman told a Christian radio host. “I feel like it’s my daughter going to her death.”
Well, yes, murderers can seem like, can even be, our daughters, our sisters, our friends. But so can victims . . . like Deborah Ruth Davis Thornton.
That was the woman Karla Faye murdered, a 32-year-old accountant, wife and mother, who’d gone out to a party and gotten drunk, after a fight with her husband the day before, and wound up murdered in the bed of a man she’d just met.
On Tuesday, her son--who was 12 when she died--and her still-grieving husband watched Tucker die. And pronounced themselves satisfied, at last.
“People need to understand that Karla Faye Tucker murdered two people in cold blood,” said Thornton’s husband, Richard, during his own publicity campaign to keep his late wife’s memory alive in the weeks leading up to the execution.
“She was and is a horrible person. If she has found religion, then God bless her. But she was found guilty, she was sentenced to death. She needs to die.”
By all accounts, Tucker slipped peacefully into death Tuesday night. The lethal injection took just eight minutes to shut her body down. She was whispering a prayer as the poison began to flow through her veins.
I find it hard to feel sorry for her, to accept her execution as unjust.
She had, at least, 14 years to prepare to die--time to repent, to accept the Lord, to be “born again” and prepare her heart for the afterlife she believed awaited her.
That’s more than Deborah Ruth Davis Thornton got. More than you or I will probably get.
And it’s all the mercy she deserved.