Karla Faye Tucker was born in Houston Texas on November 18, 1959 to parents in a volatile relationship. When Karla was ten years old she would learn that her father was not her father during her parents divorce proceedings.
Karla Faye Tucker was using drugs by the time she was twelve years old and would soon travel with her mother who was a groupie to a number of rock bands and would also work as a prostitute.
At the age of sixteen Karla Faye Tucker would be briefly married to an auto mechanic.
When Karla Faye Tucker was in her early twenties she would meet a man named Daniel Ryan Garrett who she would soon be in a relationship with. The two who spent a lot of time using drugs were short on cash and decided to rob someone they knew of his motorcycle
During the robbery they would grab the homeowner, Jerry Dean, and force him into the bedroom. Jerry Dean who made a grab for Karla Faye Tucker was beaten with a ball peen hammer. Tucker who was armed with a pick axe would strike Dean repeated with the tool causing his death.
When Garrett left the room to load more parts Karla Faye Tucker noticed a woman, Deborah Ruth Thornton, in the room and would strike her with the pick axe. The two women began to fight until they were separated by Garrett. Tucker would strike the woman repeatedly with the pick axe. Karla Faye Tucker would later tell people she has multiple orgasms when she killed the woman.
Karla Faye Tucker and Danny Garrett would be arrested five weeks later.
Karla Faye Tucker was initially charged with both murders however after agreeing to testify against Danny Garrett the murder charge for the Jerry Dean case was the only one she stood trial for. Danny Garrett would also only be charged with the Deborah Thornton murder. Both would be convicted and sentenced to death.
Karla Faye Tucker would be executed on February 3, 1998 by lethal injection. There was a ton of controversy around her execution for she completely changed her life while imprisoned and spent most of her time helping others. Most believed her death sentence should have been commuted.
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Karla Faye Tucker, the Pickax Killer turned born-again Christian, died of a lethal injection tonight, closing a long fight for her life as a crowd outside the Texas death house prayed for her soul.
Tucker, 38, was pronounced dead at 6:45 p.m. local time, becoming the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War and only the second in the United States since the resumption of the death penalty in 1976. Although she and her attorneys had played down her gender in their many pleas for clemency, the fact that she was a woman helped arouse international interest in her cause and generate appeals for mercy from figures including Pope John Paul II and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.
Wearing a white prison uniform and white tennis shoes, Karla Faye Tucker lay strapped on her back on a gurney as she delivered her final statements to the gathered witnesses, who included her husband, Dana Brown, a prison ministry worker she married by proxy in 1995, and Ronald Carlson, a Houston machinist and brother of one of the victims.
“I love all of you very much,” she said to the witnesses. “I am going to be face-to-face with Jesus now.”
Addressing her husband, she said, “Baby, I love you.”
Then a lethal dose of sodium thiopental began dripping into the veins of each arm, along with pancuronium bromide, which is a muscle relaxant, and potassium chloride, which stops the heartbeat. Within a few minutes, she was dead. Officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said that Tucker also could have requested a sedative but did not.
“I never saw Karla Faye Tucker take the smile off her face,” said Vicente Arenas, a Houston television reporter who was among the witnesses.
The scene was emotional outside the Department of Criminal Justice facility here called the death house in this east Texas town of 35,000 about 60 miles north of Houston, where a record 37 men were executed last year. Several hundred people on both sides of the issue crowded against yellow police lines, some still arguing over the value of the death penalty, others praying and singing “Amazing Grace” and other hymns.
“Bye bye, Karla Faye,” read one sign. “Forget Injection, Use a Pickax,” read another.
But many others here were sympathetic to Tucker’s plight: “I’m Ashamed to be a Texan,” one sign read, and another said: “Jesus Loves Karla Faye and So Do I.”
Cheers went up from the pro-execution crowd when her death was announced.
The case had divided victims’ families. Carlson, brother of Deborah Thornton, one of the two people Tucker was convicted of helping to kill, participated in rallies at the state Capitol in Austin asking that Tucker be spared. Richard Thornton, the victim’s husband, argued that he was sick of the depiction of Tucker as “Miss Saint.”
Arenas said Thornton, who is in a wheelchair with severe diabetes and was a witness to the execution, muttered throughout the proceedings. “The world’s a better place,” he was heard to say during the execution.
It had become increasingly clear on Monday that despite Tucker’s efforts to show she was a changed person, notably in televised appearances on “60 Minutes,” Robertson’s “The 700 Club” and CNN, her quest to spare her life had failed. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles, which could have commuted her sentence to life in prison, voted 16 to 0, with two members abstaining, to deny her request. Tucker, who could have been eligible for parole in 2003 had the board agreed, had asked that she be given life in prison without the possibility of release, but there is no such sentence in Texas, and board members said they could not make a special case of Karla Faye Tucker.
After the board’s ruling, Tucker’s only hope was with the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned down two appeals without comment this afternoon, and Gov. George W. Bush (R), who, under the law, could grant her only one 30-day stay. But here in Texas, the national leader in executions with one in every three that occurs, governors have seldom intervened in death-penalty cases and Bush was no exception.
“May God bless Karla Faye Tucker and may God bless her victims and their families,” Bush said after declining to grant the stay.
No one disputed the fact that Karla Faye Tucker committed a nightmarish act. According to her own account, she began using heroin at age 10 and was a drug-addled prostitute when she and a friend, Daniel Garrett, entered the Houston apartment of Jerry Lynn Dean on June 13, 1983, to steal a motorcycle.
Garrett began beating Dean with a hammer, and Tucker, who said she was disturbed by the “gurgling” sounds the wounded man made, found a 3-foot-long pickax and began hacking at his body. Then she noticed a figure cowering under a pile of blankets and swung the pickax again, striking Deborah Thornton on the shoulder. She said that Garrett finished Thornton off; the pickax was found embedded in the woman’s chest.
Karla Faye Tucker, who testified against Garrett, was not tried for Thornton’s murder but received the death penalty for Dean’s slaying. Garrett, who was also sentenced to death, died of a liver ailment in prison in 1993.
But Karla Faye Tucker said that as she waited in the Harris County Jail for her trial, her head began to clear from the years of drugs, and meeting with jail ministry workers, she found religion and the peace that sustained her for more than 14 years on death row.
In her final days, an unusual assortment of people rallied to her cause, including the pope and Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of “The 700 Club,” who normally supports the death penalty. “The 700 Club” broadcast Tucker’s final interview today, in which she discussed what she might be thinking as she lay waiting on the gurney.
“I am going to be thinking certainly about what it’s like in heaven,” she said. “I’m going to be thinking about my family and my friends and the pain. I am going to be thankful for all the love.”
Repeatedly, in the weeks leading to her death, Karla Faye Tucker had told interviewers she was not afraid of dying. “I know that Jesus has prepared a place for me,” she said in a recent CNN report. “I know if I have to go February 3, he’s going to come and he’s going to escort me personally. I believe that.”
After the execution, Tucker’s body was taken to Huntsville Funeral Home, said prisons spokesman Larry Todd, where her husband was expected to claim it for burial.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Karla Faye Tucker Execution
On February 3, 1998 she was executed by way of lethal injection
- Karla Faye Tucker Last Meal
A banana, a peach, and a garden salad with ranch dressing.
- Karla Faye Tucker Last Words
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.