Friday, May 2, 2008

Karla Faye Tucker

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" or is it "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Which of these two passages do you emphasize?

Houston, Texas, 1983. After spending an entire day getting high on drugs, Karla Faye Tucker, along with two other accomplices, broke into the home of Jerry Lynn Dean to settle a score. Their intent was to steal a motorcycle that belonged to Dean as a way of getting back at him for the abuse a female friend suffered while in a relationship with him. As they made their way into the premises, they were discovered by Dean, and one of Tucker's friends began striking him in the head with a hammer. As this attack unfolded, Dean's girlfriend, Deborah Thornton, hid from the assailers but was discovered by Karla Faye Tucker. Tucker then began hacking Thorton with a pickax, as one of her accomplices finished the job by embedding an axe in Thorton's chest. The gruesome scene was discovered the following day by the landlord of the premises.

In 1984, after having been indicted for the homicides the previous year, Karla Faye Tucker confessed and implicated her accomplices in the murders of Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thorton. She was subsequently sentenced to death by lethal injection, which would have made her the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War. During her incarceration, Tucker acquired a bible from the prison ministry program and began a profound process of conversion and repentance. She ultimately became a born-again Christian, and a model prisoner at the Mountain View Unit where she was incarcerated. Her transformation became palpable and evident not only to individuals at close proximity to her, but also to those following her story as it unfolded in the media and public eye.

As her story evolved, many individuals - some from unlikely sources - came to intercede on her behalf. Pat Robertson and Newt Gingrich, conservative public figures, asked then Governor George Bush for clemency. Pope John Paul II, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and officials from United Nations asked for her life to be spared and death sentence be commuted to life in prison. Even the warden of the prison housing Tucker testified that more than likely, after 14 years of incarceration, Tucker was a reformed prisoner. Governor Bush ignored the supplications for mercy, and on February 3, 1998, Karla Faye Tucker was executed by lethal injection.

For me, the Karla Faye Tucker story touches upon issues that deal directly with some of the most important Christian (Catholic) teachings and admonishments. Number one on this list is the respect for human life. Tucker recognized the full extent of the atrocity she and her accomplices carried out. She repented and converted with honesty and integrity, in plain view of those around her and others watching her story unfold. The politician(s) who could have saved her life felt otherwise, however. No amount of repentance, no amount of conversion, no amount of reform was enough for mercy. Caesar has his justice to dispense, and when it's time to collect you must render unto him what is his. This is especially true when Caesar is democratically elected, has his eyes set on a higher public office, and doesn't want to deal with the political fallout that comes from making an unpopular decision about executions (especially in Texas).

What would you do? Could you sign the death warrant of someone guilty of the atrocity Tucker and others are guilty of, or would you show mercy to someone who had manifestly made an intense transformation? What if you were the family of the victims? Could you spare the life of someone who took your loved ones away so barbarically? If you were the politician making this life-and-death decision, could you give up your own political advancement by making the unpopular decision of sparing the life of a murderer? You might save your own soul in the process.

Remember, we will be judged as we have judged others.


jessica said...

That really gives you something to think about doesn't it? I wonder if I was in a situation to make a difference like that what I would do. Depending on the situation...I hope I'd make the right moral choice. Something for me to think about today....

Katie Alender said...

What a horrific crime.

I remember a few years ago reading an article written by a guy who'd been on a death penalty jury. They convicted the guy, and he was put on Death Row, and then the juror started to think he'd made the wrong choice.

That was what changed my mind on the death penalty.

What really honestly confuses me are people who swing one way on this issue and another way on abortion, pro and anti or anti and pro. It's life, either way!

ukok said...

What I want to believe I would want, most likely isn't what I would actually want.

For a murderer in a crime unrelated to me, I can speak words of forgiveness while not condoning, while hanging my head in shame at what they have done, to disgrace the inherent dignity of man.

Only yesterday I was reading about a couple walking in the park....a group of 5 teenagers set on them, and completely unprovoked the teens beat up the boyfriend....the girlfriend acted in his defence asking them to stop hurting him....they stamped on her head, kicked and punched her repeatedly, and took her cell phone... they left her laying there, she was dead...the teen boys were heard whooping with glee at what they had done...punching the air with pride...i looked at the faces of these boys on the news..and I actually said to myself....'where are you Jesus?'...not like, where are you so this won't happen...but 'where are you Jesus, in the faces of these boys....for I know, that even these were made in the image of God'.

If if were my son or daughter that committed a crime, i would want the victim or victims family to find it in their hearts to forgive ...because I KNOW my children, they are good children....committing an act of crime may be evil, it doesn't make the person evil. No one is entirely wicked and even with ones last thought or breath, can beg for God's forgiveness...we may yet be sharing heaven (if WE get there) with Sadam Hussien or Adolf Hitler...

If it were my child that was murdered, I would hope that I could forgive the criminal...but I honestly don't know that I could...the intention might possibly be there...but my children are my world...being on my own with them, raising them alone all these years, they are my life...I can't imagine going on without could I live without them? How could I forgive the one who took one/both of them from me?

I hope I never have to know that pain of loss, that I never have to be in a position where I am asked by my God to forgive the criminal...but then how can I pray 'Forgive me as I forgive those that trespass against me'....if I do not ?

In the case first impression of the photo posted, is that she looks 'good'...i know we can;t judge a book by it's cover, but she just looks to me (and from reading about her here) that she just got messed up in the head and lived a nightmare that she couldn't wake up from.

May she rest in peace, and may the families scarred by the wounds of loss, be comforted in heir sorrow.

ukok said...

sorry for all the typo's in the above brain thinks the thoughts faster than my fingers can type them!

Rita said...

Excellent post, Tom.

It links nicely to Terry Nelson's Abbey-Road's 2 post today. Christians have a big L for loser stamped on their forehead by the world...Poor Tucker, condemned by the righteous new puritan hypocrites that infest our state machinery.

Society has no time for redemption.

All the more reason to reach out with love to those condemned by society to be losers.

Tom in Vegas said...


I hope I could make the right decision and forgive those who hurt those I cared for. It's an awful thing to have to face.


How right you are!!! Excellent point.


Very nicely stated. It breaks my heart, but it also angers me to hear of the callous teens and the murder of the victim mentioned above. My gut reaction is to seek "justice", make them hurt for what they did. I have to, however, refrain from that type of thought and not harbor anger that could turn into hate.

Don't worry about any spelling mistakes. My comments on other blogs are full of them:0)


"All the more reason to reach out with love to those condemned by society to be losers." What a wonderful thing to mention. I think we forget that Jesus and his followers were OUTCASTS.

Thom said...

Excellent post, Tom. I remember being really affected by Tucker's state-sanctioned murder back then (even if I was a sophomore in HS!)

Tom in Vegas said...


Her execution had affected me a great deal as well. I was left speechless by the governor's cold-blooded handling of the entire situation.

Tracy said...

I remember this case very well, when I heard about Carla and the fact that she was clearly repentent for her sins and she was still killed.. it made a huge impact on me and changed my mind about the death penalty. Why could she have not been allowed to serve life in prison? She could have reached out to so many prisoners and shared about God's forgiveness..very sad indeed.

paramedicgirl said...

Really interesting story, Tom. I had never heard it before. You are right; it is easy to imagine you would be capable of forgiveness if it was a family member who was murdered, but it may take a lot of prayer in reality.

I remember when my oldest sister was killed by a drunk driver. The man who ran her down later offered me and my brother some candy one day while we were riding horses. We didn't know who he was, and went to accept the treats. My older brother pulled us back, telling us not to accept anything from the man who had killed our sister.

Forgiveness has always come easily to me in almost every situation. But when a life is involved, it takes a special grace from God to truly be able to forgive the person.

That being said, the death penalty should be abolished.

Tom in Vegas said...


I agree with your conclusion. This incident has been the turn-around case for many people when it comes to the death penalty.


Oh man, I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your sister, especially under the preventable circumstances that took her life. I'm overtaken by your position because you're walking the walk on this one and not merely stating an opinion. You actually had to live your response and that to me is indicative of someone with TRUE faith in God.

Shirley said...

PMG,I never hated the man who killed our sister.I was too overwhelmed at the loss of my closest friend. (Tom, I was 15 at the time and my sister was only a year older than me.) However, I have often been quick to condemn others for their actions, as I probably would be in the case of the teenagers who killed the lady in the park. But I think that after the initial knee-jerk reaction,I can only be sad that so many people have let Satan rule their lives, that they don't know the joy of loving God and living for Him. There is always hope that even the most hardened heart can be turned around, although sometimes it will take an act of God. The case of Karla Faye Tucker proves that a change of heart is possible. Our laws /lawmakers should have clemency especially when one has reformed. I do not believe that the death penalty is necessary, but I am all in favour of hard labour and other forms of punishment. Just being in jail is not enough for some heinous crimes.

Tom in Vegas said...


I would like to extend to you my sympathies for the incomprehensible loss of your sister, despite the fact that it happened a long time ago. And although time makes things bearable, that vacuity is never filled again. I agree that a life behind bars is not punishment enough. Prison should be incommodious and everyone who goes there should have to face some kind of struggle.

But here you guys are walking the walk, and I must admit to you that I'm but a great coward next to you both when it comes to enduring these blows that life throws at you. I shiver at the thought of having to put myself in your shoes

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I think the only people who have the right to decide to forgive someone like Tucker are the family of the victims. I haven't followed this case whatsoever, but I would guess that if the families of the victims had requested clemency, it might have been granted?