Karla Faye Tucker

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Karla Faye Tucker
Karla Faye Tucker mugshot.png
Born(1959-11-18)November 18, 1959
DiedFebruary 3, 1998(1998-02-03) (aged 38)
Criminal statusDeceased[1]
Spouse(s)Stephen Griffith
Rev. Dana Lane Brown
Parent(s)Larry and Carolyn Tucker[1]
Conviction(s)Murder[1] (1984)
Criminal penaltyDeath by lethal injection[1] (December 18, 1984)
  • Jerry Lynn Dean (age 27)
  • Deborah Thornton (age 32)[1]
DateJune 13, 1983
3:00 A.M.
CountryUnited States
Date apprehended
July 20, 1983

Karla Faye Tucker (November 18, 1959 – February 3, 1998) was an American woman sentenced to death for killing two people with a pickaxe during a burglary.[3] She was the first woman to be executed in the United States since Velma Barfield in 1984, and the first in Texas since Chipita Rodriguez in 1863.[4] She was convicted of murder in Texas in 1984 and executed by lethal injection after 14 years on death row.[5] Due to her gender and widely publicized conversion to Christianity, she inspired an unusually large national and international movement that advocated the commutation of her sentence to life without parole, a movement that included a few foreign government officials.[6][7]

Early life[edit]

Karla Tucker was born and raised in Houston, Texas, the youngest of three sisters. Her father Larry was a longshoreman.[8] The marriage of her parents was troubled, and Tucker started smoking cigarettes with her sisters when she was eight years old.[9] During her parents' divorce proceedings when she was 10 years old, Tucker learned that her birth was the result of an extramarital affair.[10]

By age 12, she had begun taking drugs and having sex.[11] She dropped out of school at age 14 and followed her mother Carolyn, a rock groupie, into prostitution[12] and began traveling with the Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, and the Eagles. At 16, she was briefly married to a mechanic named Stephen Griffith. When she was in her early 20s, she began hanging out with bikers and met a woman named Shawn Dean and her husband Jerry Lynn Dean. The couple introduced her in 1981 to a man named Daniel Ryan Garrett (Danny Garrett). Then 21 years old, Tucker started dating 35-year-old Garrett.[13][14]


After spending the weekend using drugs with Garrett and their friends, Tucker and Garrett entered Jerry Dean's apartment in Houston, Texas around 3 a.m. on Monday, June 13, 1983, intending to steal a motorcycle that Dean was restoring there. James Liebrandt, a friend, went with them to Dean's apartment complex. Liebrandt reported that he went looking for Dean's El Camino while Tucker and Garrett entered the apartment with a set of keys that Tucker claimed Shawn Dean had lost and Tucker had found.[15]

During the burglary, Tucker and Garrett entered Dean's bedroom, where Tucker sat on him. In an effort to protect himself, Dean grabbed Tucker above the elbows, whereupon Garrett intervened. Garrett struck Dean numerous times in the back of the head with a ball-peen hammer that he found on the floor. After hitting Dean, Garrett left the room to carry motorcycle parts out of the apartment. Tucker remained in the bedroom. The blows Garrett had dealt Dean caused him to begin making a "gurgling" sound. Tucker wanted to "stop him from making that noise" and she then picked up a three-foot pickaxe that was laying against the wall and began hitting Dean. Garrett then re-entered the room and dealt Dean a final blow in the chest.[15]

Garrett left the bedroom again to continue loading Dean's motorcycle parts into his Ford Ranchero. Tucker was once again left in the room and only then noticed a woman who had hidden under the bed covers against the wall. The woman, Deborah Ruth Thornton had argued with her husband the day before, went to a party and ended up spending the night in Dean's bed.[16][17] Upon discovering Thornton, Tucker grazed her shoulder with the pickaxe. Thornton and Tucker began to struggle, but Garrett returned and separated them. Tucker proceeded to hit Thornton repeatedly with the pickaxe and then embedded the axe in her heart. Tucker would later tell people and testify that she experienced intense multiple orgasms with each blow of the pickaxe.[18][19]

The next morning, one of Dean's co-workers who had been waiting for a ride entered the apartment and discovered the victims' bodies. Police investigation led to the arrests of Tucker and Garrett, five weeks after the killings.[20][21]


In September 1983, Tucker and Garrett were indicted for murder and tried separately for the crimes. Tucker was charged with the murders of both Dean and Thornton, but after she testified against Garrett at his trial, the charge for the murder of Thornton was dropped. Garrett was not charged with Thornton's death, either.[22] Tucker entered a plea of not guilty and was jailed awaiting trial.[23] Soon after being imprisoned, Tucker took a Bible from the prison ministry program and read it in her cell. She later recalled, "I didn't know what I was reading. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of my cell floor on my knees. I was just asking God to forgive me." Tucker became a Christian in October 1983.[24] She later married by proxy her prison minister, Reverend Dana Lane Brown, in 1995 and held her Christian wedding ceremony inside the prison.[25]


Mountain View Unit, where Tucker was held

Though the death penalty was hardly ever sought for female killers, Tucker, along with Garrett, was sentenced to death in late 1984. Garrett died of liver disease in 1993 while awaiting execution. Tucker shared her death row cell at the Mountain View Unit with Pam Perillo, whose own sentence was eventually commuted.[26]

Between 1984 and 1992, requests for a retrial and appeals were denied, but on June 22, Tucker requested that her life be spared on the basis that she was under the influence of drugs at the time of the murders. Tucker said that she was now a reformed person, and if she had not taken the drugs the murders would never have been committed. Her plea drew support from abroad and also from some leaders of American conservatism. Among those who appealed to the State of Texas on her behalf were Bacre Waly Ndiaye, the United Nations commissioner on summary and arbitrary executions; the World Council of Churches; Pope John Paul II[27]; Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi; the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich; televangelist Pat Robertson; and Ronald Carlson, the brother of Tucker's murder victim Debbie Thornton. The warden of Texas's Huntsville prison testified that she was a model prisoner and that, after 14 years on death row, she likely had been reformed.[28] The board rejected her appeal on January 28, 1998.[28][29] Hours before the execution, Texas Governor George W. Bush refused the final 11th-hour appeal to block her execution.


While on death row, Tucker was incarcerated in the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas.[30] She became Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Death Row Inmate #777.[31]

On February 2, 1998, state authorities took Tucker from the unit in Gatesville and flew her on a TDCJ aircraft,[32] transporting her to the Huntsville Unit.[33] For her last meal, Tucker requested a banana, a peach, and a garden salad with ranch dressing.[34]

She selected four people to watch her die, who included her sister Kari Weeks, her spouse Dana Brown, her close friend Jackie Oncken, and Ronald Carlson. At one time, Carlson had supported the execution, but after a religious conversion he decided that he was now opposed to all executions. The witnesses for the murder victims included Thornton's husband Richard, Thornton's only child William Joseph Davis and Thornton's stepdaughter Katie. Tucker's execution was also witnessed by members of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Warden Bagget, and various representatives of the media. Her last words were:[35][36]

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. [She looked at her husband.] Baby, I love you. [She looked at Ronald Carlson.] Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. [She looked at all present weeping and smiling.] Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you.

She was executed by lethal injection on February 3, 1998. As the deadly chemicals were being administered, she praised Jesus Christ, licked her lips, looked at the ceiling, and hummed. She was pronounced dead at 6:45 p.m. C.S.T., eight minutes after receiving the injection.[36] She was buried at Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery in Houston.

Tucker was the first woman executed in the State of Texas in 135 years, when Chipita Rodriguez was executed by hanging in 1863 during the American Civil War, and the second woman executed in the United States since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976.[36]


In the year following her execution, conservative commentator Tucker Carlson questioned Governor Bush about how the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had arrived at the determination on her clemency plea. Carlson alleged that Bush, alluding to a televised interview which Karla Faye Tucker had given to talk show host Larry King, smirked and spoke mockingly about her.[37] Carlson later reviewed the Larry King interview transcript and discovered that nowhere did it show Tucker asking Bush to stay the execution, calling into question the accuracy of his claim. A full-length movie was released in 2004 about the life of Tucker entitled Forevermore starring actress Karen Jezek.[38]

The captain of the "Death House Team," Fred Allen, was interviewed by Werner Herzog for the 2011 documentary Into the Abyss. Within days after Tucker's execution, one of over 120 he managed, he suffered an emotional breakdown. He resigned his job, giving up his pension, and changed his position on the death penalty. "I was pro capital punishment. After Karla Faye and after all this, until this day, eleven years later, no sir. Nobody has the right to take another life. I don't care if it's the law. And it's so easy to change the law."[39]



  • The Tomorrowpeople (1999). "America's Deathrow Sweetheart" (Gibson/Powerchurch) on the album Marijuana Beach [Olivia Records]
  • Indigo Girls (1999). "Faye Tucker" (Amy Ray) on the album Come On Now Social [Epic Records]
  • Richard Dobson (1999). "Ballad of Chipita and Karla Faye" (Richard Dobson) on the album Global Village Garage [R&T Musikproduktion]
  • Mary Gauthier (2001). "Karla Faye" (Mary Gauthier/Crit Harmon) on the album Drag Queens in Limousines [Munich Records BV]
  • David Knopfler (2002). "Karla Faye" (David Knopfler) on the album Wishbones [Paris Records/Edel GmbH/Koch Entertainment]

Theatrical plays, films, and television[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Verhovek, Sam Howe (February 4, 1998). "EXECUTION IN TEXAS: THE OVERVIEW; Divisive Case of a Killer of Two Ends as Texas Executes Tucker". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  2. ^ Grumman, Cornelia (February 4, 1998). "Karla Tucker Put To Death In Texas". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. HUNTSVILLE, Texas: Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  3. ^ Writer, Cornelia Grumman, Tribune Staff. "KARLA TUCKER PUT TO DEATH IN TEXAS". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  4. ^ HANSON, Michael (April 9, 2014). "Death Penalty in Texas: Hernandez-Llanas' Execution Set Today". Texas Evidence. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  5. ^ WALT, KATHY (February 2, 2003). "Tucker dies after apologizing | Despite legal blitz, woman executed for pickax slayings". HUNTSVILLE: Houston Chronicle. Archived from the original on February 2, 2003. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  6. ^ Leung, Rebecca (February 3, 2000). "U.S. News | Texas Executes Tucker – Case Raised Questions About Women and the Death Penalty". ABC News. Associated Press contributed. Archived from the original on March 3, 2001. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  7. ^ Smith, Jordan (August 20, 2004). "No Mercy – The case of James Allridge raises familiar questions about the Texas justice system". The Austin Chronicle. Austin Chronicle Corp. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  8. ^ "Karla Faye Tucker #437". www.clarkprosecutor.org. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  9. ^ "Karla Faye Tucker, First Woman Executed in Texas: From Murderer to Christian". August 17, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  10. ^ Karla Faye Tucker: Texas' Controversial Murdress, "Chapter 2: Early Days, Dark Days" from Crime Library Archived February 10, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Karla Faye Tucker: Born again on death row". CNN. March 26, 2007. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  13. ^ Death in Texas from the New York Review of Books.
  14. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (August 11, 1992). "Books of The Times; Why Did She Kill? It Just Sort of Happened". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  15. ^ a b "FindACase™ | DANIEL RYAN GARRETT v. STATE TEXAS (01/13/93)". tx.findacase.com. January 13, 1993. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  16. ^ KATZ, JESSE (January 9, 1998). "Should Karla Faye Tucker Be Executed?". Los Angeles Times. GATESVILLE, Texas. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  17. ^ HEWITT, BELL (February 2, 1998). "Reborn Too Late – Vol. 49 No. 4". PEOPLE.com. Time Inc. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  18. ^ Stewart, Steven (February 3, 1998). "Karla Faye Tucker". Women Executed Since 1976. Jeffersonville, Indiana: Office of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  19. ^ Geringer, Joseph (February 3, 1998). "Texas' Controversial Murderess". Women Who Kill. Huntsville, Tx: TruTV. Archived from the original on May 19, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  20. ^ Lowry, Beverly. Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir, New York: 1992, ISBN 978-0679411840[page needed]
  21. ^ "BBC NEWS | Special Report | 1998 | Karla Faye Tucker | A crime that shocked America". news.bbc.co.uk. BBC News. January 30, 1998. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  22. ^ Walt, Kathy (February 3, 1998). "Tucker Dies After Apologizing; Despite Legal Blitz, Woman Executed for Pickax Slayings". Houston Chronicle. Republished by the Office of the Clark County (Texas) Prosecuting Attorney. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  23. ^ "Tucker Background – 1998 | CNN LARRY KING LIVE". CNN. January 14, 1998. Retrieved May 20, 2017. KING: Did you plead guilty? TUCKER: I did not plead guilty at the beginning of my trial, but only because my attorneys had said not to.
  24. ^ Hinrichs, Tim (March 29, 2012). "The Salvation Of Karla Faye Tucker". www.sermoncentral.com. Outreach, Inc. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  25. ^ SIEMASZKO, CORKY (February 5, 1998). "JAILHOUSE HUSBAND CLAIMS KARLA'S BODY". New York Daily News. News Wire Services.
  26. ^ Prejean, Helen. "Death in Texas". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  27. ^ "International appeals to save Tucker fail". February 3, 1998. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  28. ^ a b American Justice – Dead Woman Walking: The Karla Faye Tucker Story
  29. ^ Lachance, Daniel (November 4, 2015). The New Republic. New York, New York https://newrepublic.com/article/123339/death-row-prisoners-have-time-find-god-few-find-mercy. Retrieved April 8, 2016. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  30. ^ Geringer, Joseph. "Legal Tactics, Back and Forth." Karla Faye Tucker: Texas' Controversial Murderess. Crime Library. Retrieved on September 29, 2010. Archived October 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ "Karla Faye Tucker." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 29, 2010. Archived June 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ Hoppe, Christy. "Board unanimously rejects Tucker's plea for clemency Federal courts, governor could delay execution." The Dallas Morning News. February 3, 1998. Retrieved on November 19, 2010. "...on a prison agency plane from the women's death row prison in Gatesville to..."[dead link]
  33. ^ "Karla Faye Tucker's last hours?" CNN. February 3, 1998. Retrieved on September 29, 2010.
  34. ^ "Final Meal Requests". Texas Department of Criminal Justice. October 1, 2003. Archived from the original on October 1, 2003. Retrieved October 1, 2003.
  35. ^ "Last Statement – Karla Faye Tucker." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 29, 2010. Archived September 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ a b c "The day the Pickax killer Karla Faye Tucker was executed in 1998". Daily News. New York, New York. February 3, 2016. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  37. ^ Carlson, Talk, September 1999, p. 106
  38. ^ Karla Faye Tucker: Forevermore on IMDb
  39. ^ Johnson, Laurie Ruth (2016). Forgotten Dreams: Revisiting Romanticism in the Cinema of Werner Herzog. Boydell & Brewer. p. 202. ISBN 9781571139115. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  40. ^ The Karla Faye Tucker Story: A Question of Mercy. Courtroom Television Network. 1998. OCLC 39676133.
  41. ^ "A&E TV | American Justice - Dead Woman Walking: The Karla Faye Tucker Story". A&E. Archived from the original on September 8, 2011. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  42. ^ "Dead Woman Walking: The Karla Faye Tucker Story (1998) – Overview". Turner Classic Movies. 1998. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  43. ^ "Crossed Over (2002) – movie review on The Movie Scene". www.themoviescene.co.uk. March 3, 2002. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  44. ^ "Watch The Power of Forgiveness: The Story of Karla Faye Tucker (2000) Free Online". OVGuide. Retrieved May 20, 2017.[permanent dead link]
  45. ^ Evans, Everett (October 30, 2005). "Steve Earle brings Karla Faye Tucker's life to the stage". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved March 30, 2013.


  • Carlson, T. (1999). Devil May Care, Talk Magazine, September 1999, p. 106.
  • Clark, T. (2000). Texas procedures on death penalty reprieves. CNN Law Center. June 22, 2000.
  • King, L. (1998). Karla Faye Tucker: Live from Death Row. CNN Transcript # 98011400V22.
  • Strom, L. (2000). Karla Faye Tucker set free: life and faith on death row. New York, NY. Random House: Shaw Books.
  • Lowry, Beverly (2002). Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir. Vintage.

External links[edit]