First Execution of a Woman in Texas Since 1863
First Execution of a Woman in Texas Since 1863
Date: December 8, 1997
Source: "First Execution of a Woman in Texas Since 1863." Associated Press, 1997.
About the Photographer: This image was taken by a staff photographer for the Associated Press, an international news agency providing syndicated coverage to thousands of newspapers, television stations, and radio stations around the world. The Associated Press is considered to be a global leader in news and information dissemination.
Karla Faye Tucker Brown was convicted of two counts of murder in 1984 and sentenced to death. While in prison, she converted to Christianity and garnered much support from Christians in the United States and around the world. Her appeal for clemency came before George W. Bush, then Governor of Texas, and was denied. On February 3, 1998, Tucker Brown became the first woman to be executed in Texas since 1863 and only the second woman to be executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
FIRST EXECUTION OF A WOMAN IN TEXAS SINCE 1863
See primary source image.
On June 13, 1983, Karla Faye Tucker and her then boyfriend, Daniel Ryan Garrett, entered the home of Jerry Lynn Dean and his companion Deborah Thornton and stabbed them to death with a pickaxe as they slept. Tucker confessed her role in the murders to police and even claimed to have experienced orgasm during the killings. Both Tucker and Garrett were sentenced to death in 1984 when Tucker was just 23 years old, but Garrett died in prison of liver disease in 1994.
While in prison, Tucker claimed to have become a "born-again Christian." She was a model prisoner with a spotless prison record and even worked for a prison-based ministry aimed at keeping young people from becoming involved in crime. In 1996 she married prison chaplain Dana Brown. She claimed to be a completely different person from the young woman who committed the heinous murders of Dean and Thornton. She asked for clemency from the state, requesting that her death penalty sentence be commuted to life in prison. Karla argued that she was no longer a threat to society.
Under Texas law, every death penalty case has the opportunity to be granted clemency by the governor of the state. At the time of Karla Faye Tucker Brown's application, George W. Bush was Governor of the state of Texas. Notably, Karla's application for clemency was supported by United Nations Commissioner on Summary and Arbitrary Executions Bacre Waly Ndiaye, the World Council of Churches, Pope John Paul II, and Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy. Most unusual was the support that came from typically conservative Americans, such as Republican politician Newt Gingrich and conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson. Tucker Brown's claim of religious conversion seemed to have struck a chord with some American Christians. However, George W. Bush was adamant that, in considering Tucker Brown's clemency request, he would look only at whether or not she was likely to be guilty of the crime and whether or not she received a fair trial. In Texas there have been only thirty-six successful appeals for clemency since 1976, and not one has been granted solely on humanitarian grounds. Never has a pardon been based on a religious conversion.
Tucker Brown's lawyers launched an appeal to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals to halt her execution on January 20, 1997, challenging the constitutionality of the clemency appeals process in Texas. They argued that Texas law provides no guidelines for the parole board in considering death row appeals. The motion was denied on January 28, 1998. On February 2, 1998, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Karla's appeal to have her sentence commuted. The execution would go ahead as scheduled.
The controversy that surrounded Karla Faye Tucker Brown's impending execution made strange bedfellows of individuals and organizations normally at odds. Conservative Christians in the United States tend to be supporters of the death penalty, and their opposition to Tucker Brown's execution was decidedly out of character. George W. Bush was faced with a dilemma—should he risk alienating the support of his conservative Christian voters by denying clemency, or grant the appeal and risk being thought of as "soft on crime?" The unusual support for Tucker Brown that came from the Christian community was a product of her vocal religious convictions, but also possibly of her gender. Criminal justice systems in western countries have traditionally been chivalrous toward women, being less likely to convict and less likely to impose harsh sentences. Underlying this deferential treatment seems to be an idealistic and chauvinistic view of women as incapable of being evil. Women are supposed to be kind and nurturing and a criminal woman is the antithesis of what is expected. Women who commit crimes are often viewed as "sick" or "mentally ill," rather than evil, and therefore are more worthy of mercy than men.
Karla Faye Tucker Brown's execution brought into question whether there is a gender bias in the application of the death penalty in the United States. Women are convicted of one in every eight murders in the United States, yet only one in every seventy death row inmates is female. At the time of Tucker Brown's execution, there were seven women on death row in Texas and 437 men. Karla Faye Tucker Brown was executed by the state of Texas on February 3, 1998. Her story and her death brought national and international attention to the use of the death penalty. Following her execution, support for capital punishment in Texas dropped from eighty-five to sixty-eight percent.
Strom, Linda. Karla Faye Tucker Set Free: Life and Faith on Death Row. New York: Random House, 2000.
Cruikshank, Barbara. "Feminism and Punishment." Signs 24, 4 (1999): 1113-1115.
Heberle, Renee. "Disciplining Gender; Or, Are Women Getting Away With Murder?" Signs 24, 4 (1999): 1103-1108.
BBC News. "Governor Faces Death Row Dilemma." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/karla_faye_tucker/48851.stm〉 (accessed March 25, 2006).
BBC News. "Portrait of a Repentant Killer." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/karla_faye_tucker/48816.stm〉 (accessed March 25, 2006).