Last updated: April 30, 2007
Karla Faye Tucker
A Memorial to Karla Faye Tucker Brown

Executed by the State of Texas
on
February 3rd 1998


Just the Facts

My Opinions

Other Links

Pres. Bush Mocks Tucker's Clemency Plea

My Texas Quarter Design

On February 3rd of 1998, the State of Texas executed Karla Faye Tucker Brown for her part in 2 extremely brutal murders committed in 1983.  Media coverage of her execution centered on several factors:
  • Karla would be the first woman executed by Texas since the 1860's
  • Karla was a woman (and a pretty one, at that)
  • Karla was a born-again Christian
We were flooded with all sorts of information about Karla's life and got to know her.  She's an extremely deep person.  Her life has been through such extremes that it boggles my mind: a childhood full of abuse and neglect, a youth immersed in a world of drugs and immorality, a sensational brutal crime yielding society's ultimate punishment, personal redemption, guilt, pain, facing one's death.  Regardless of her path in life, Karla's final destination was a place many of us glorify: i.e., becoming a good person.

Yes, we got to know quite a lot about Karla.

We should not forget the victims in this case: Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton.  Their lives were cut short by Karla and her accomplice in a most brutal manner.  While I am philosophically opposed to the death penalty, I can easily understand why the jury sentenced Karla to die.  Had "that Karla" existed today, few people would have mourned her execution.  But 15 years passed between Karla's sentencing and her death.  In that time, I believe Karla had rehabilitated and was no longer a threat to Society.  With all due respect to the victims and their families, at the time of her execution no civilized benefit was derived from Karla's death.

Karla desired mercy from Texas.  She wasn't asking for freedom; only to spend the rest of her life in prison working her very special ministry to inmates.

Karla was refused mercy and her life was extinguished.  This website serves to highlight the injustice of her execution as well as being my humble attempt to honor the person Karla had become: a caring and giving person... a mentch.  Her vehicle was Christianity and, although I am not Christian, I respect her journey.  I triumph in her self-transformation and deeply regret her death.

The world is a sadder place without Karla Faye Tucker.


Just the facts

The death penalty in Texas

Karla's Early Life

The Crime

The Trial

Pre-Execution Media Attention

Plea for Clemency

The Execution

People close to the situation speak out after the execution

A report submitted to the Clemency Board and Governor Bush describing new research at the University of Arizona about Karla's execution and the clemency process.


My opinions

My thoughts on Karla Tucker's execution

This cartoon (which appeared in the Dallas Morning News) expresses many of my feelings

Return to Paradise - my thoughts after seeing this movie.


Other Karla Faye Tucker websites and resources
o Karla Faye Tucker Brown Memorial  - a wonderful and thoughtful site
o Ronald W. Carlson's website - Ronald W. Carlson is the brother of one of the victims. (expired)
o The 700 Club - interviews with Karla by reporter Kathy Chiero (expired)
o Karla Faye Home Page - A rich site from the Family Life Training Center (expired)
o Crossed Over : A Murder, a Memoir - a book by Beverly Lowry based on her interviews with Karla (1992) (out of print)
o CNN Headline News - CNN news coverage of Karla's execution


Other Interesting Death Penalty websites
The Debra Jean Milke Case  - An innocent woman on Arizona's deathrow: stunning reading.


President George W. Bush Publicly Mocked Karla's Clemency Plea
In early August 1999, then Presidential candidate Governor George W. Bush mocked Karla Tucker's plea for clemency during an interview with Talk Magazine. Bush mentioned that he had watched Larry King's interview with Karla Tucker from Texas Death Row.

"I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it," Bush told the magazine. "I watched his interview with (Tucker), though. He asked her real difficult questions, like, `What would you say to Governor Bush?' "

The Talk reporter asked how she answered.
" `Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, `don't kill me,' " according to the magazine.
Here's the relevant clip of the interview from the September 1999 issue of Talk Magazine.

GOP Presidental Primary Opponent Gary Bauer critisized Bush for these comments.
"I think it is nothing short of unbelievable that the governor of a major state running for president thought it was acceptable to mock a woman he decided to put to death," Bauer said of Bush.

Houston Chronicle, August 11, 1999


Send email to the webpage owner


The Death Penalty in Texas: Some Facts

Current Method of Execution: Injection of a chemical mixture of pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride and sodium thiopental.

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Karla's Early Life

This biography is still under construction.
Date of birth: 11/18/1959
Race: white
Height: 5' 3"
Eyes: brown
Hair: black
Native of Harris County, TX
Education Level: 7 years
Weight (at time of offense): 121 lbs
Age (at time of offense): 23

Sources: Application/petition for thirty day reprieve from execution of death sentence and for commutation of sentence to imprisonment for life
Karla dropped out of school before completely the 7th grade. While living with her father and 2 older sisters, she started shooting heroin. At 12 years old, her mother helped her "kick" her heroin addiction. At age 13, she began traveling with the Allman Brothers Band on tour and experience cocaine use.

At about 15 or 16 years old, she moved in with Steven Griffith (they later married). They took care of the child of a friend for the 5 years they were together. Four months after breaking up with Griffith, Karla took up prostitution and continued nearly up to the time of the murders. All this time she was taking drugs.

Karla has known Shawn Dean (wife of Jerry Lynn Dean) since her band travelling days. After breaking up with Griffith, she moved in with Shawn and Jerry Dean.

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The Crime
Here is a brief synopsis of the crime and it's circumstances.

The crime was committed on June 13, 1983.

Tucker had spent to previous 2 days using drugs and alcohol along with several other people: Danny Garrett (her current boyfriend), Kari Burrell, Ronnie Burrell (Kari's ex-husband), and James Leibrant. The Burrells left the previous evening. The morning of June 13th, the remaining three (Tucker, Garrett, and Leibrant) decided to go to Jerry Dean's home and steal Dean's motorcycle: Tucker having lived with Jerry Dean and his wife, Shawn, in the past. Shawn Dean had left Jerry Dean 2 to 3 weeks previously because Jerry had punched her and was living with Tucker.

They entered Dean's apartment using a key the Tucker had taken from Shawn Dean's pants (while doing laundary). In the apartment, Tucker sat on Dean (who was lying on a mattress on the floor). Dean recognized her in the dark, and told her, "We can work it out. . . . I didn't really file charges on Shawn. . . ." Tucker and Dean wrestled, and then Garrett intervened, hitting Dean over the head repeatedly with a hammer.

Tucker found and turned on the lights to see Dean lying face down on the mattress, his body "gurgling." Wanting to "stop him from making that noise," Tucker took a nearby pickax and hit him in the back with it four or five times. Leibrant apparently witnessed some portion of this and left the crime scene. When Tucker told Garrett that Dean was still "making that noise," Garrett repeatedly struck Dean with the pickax and the noise stopped.

Tucker then discovered that someone was "underneath some covers laying up against the wall by the door." She swung the pickax and hit Deborah Thornton in the shoulder, not being able to discern whether Thornton was a man or woman at that moment. Thornton rose up and struggled with Tucker, grabbing the pickax.

Garrett came in the room, grabbing the pickax too, and separated Tucker from Thornton. Tucker testified that she then went into the living room at that point and carried boxes out to Garrett's car. She then returned to the bedroom where she saw Garrett kill Thornton with the pickax.

After obtaining the motorcycle frame, she and Garrett left: Garrett in his car, and Tucker driving Jerry Dean's vehicle.

In a tape recording played in court (recorded by police utilizing Doug Garrett, Danny's brother), she bragged to friends that she got sexual thrills while pick-axing Dean. At trial, though, Tucker testified this was not true: that it was "big talk" to impress her friends. It should be noted that, at her trial, Tucker appeared remorseful for her crime and gave clear candid testimony.

Tucker was convicted of the two murders and received the death penalty.

Garrett, who also was sentenced to death, died in prison of liver disease in 1993.

The two victims are picture below.
Dean and Thornton

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The Trial

This section is still under construction.
Sources: Application/petition for thirty day reprieve from execution of death sentence and for commutation of sentence to imprisonment for life

On 9/13/83, Karla was indicted for capital murder and entered a plea of not guilty. Jury selection began on 3/2/84 and concluded more than 1 month later on 4/9/84. The trial began on 4/11 and 4/19. A guilty verdict was handed dwon that same day.

The punishment phase of the trial began on 4/23 and lasted 2 days. The jury came back with punishment of death after taking into account
1) was her crime deliberate.
2) does she pose a continuing societal threat.

Texas Prisoner Number: 777

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Pre-Execution Media Attention

There was a tremendous amount of media attention: locally as well as globally. Europeans were especially troubled that Texas was going to execute Karla.

The "Larry King Live" show had two revealing shows.
Larry King's interview with Karla on death row
Larry King's interview with key people about Karla's fate.

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Plea for Clemency

    Karla's Austin and Houston attorneys filed with the State of Texas an application/petition for thirty day reprieve from execution of death sentence and for commutation of sentence to imprisonment for life.  This document is not available for viewing on the Internet but contains a wealth of information about the judicial history of Karla's case as well as compelling testimonials from important people asserting Karla's full rehabilitation. For example, Charley Davidson (a prosecutor of Karla's accomplice, Garrett) publicly stated (Jan. 1998)

"The Karla Tucker who killed Jerry Dean and Debra Thornton cannot be executed by the State of Texas because that person no longer exists. The Karla Tucker who remains on death row is a completely different person who, in my opinion, is not capable of those atrocities. I am comfortable enough with this belief that, if possible, I would welcome Karla into my house to meet my family. If the purpose of the death penalty is to execute an individual solely for a crime they have committed, then Karla Faye Tucker should be executed. However, if the purpose is to execute an individual for  what they have done and what they now are, then Karla Faye Tucker should not die. She is no longer a threat to society. As such, even though she will not ask for it herself, I believe Governor Bush should commute her sentence to life. Based not only on what she did but what she has become, I feel justice would have been done."
By Texas law, the Governor can commute a death sentence only with the recommendation of a majority of the Board of Pardons and Paroles.  There are 18 members of this board which is chaired by Victor Rodriguez.   The Parole Board members receive by mail information regarding the bid for clemency and mail in their votes.  By law, their job is only to review the facts of the criminal case to ensure the prisoner received a fair trial.

While they are not required to meet with the prisoner, Victor Rodriguez did meet with Karla Tucker and reviewed the facts of her trial.  At this time, it is my understanding that no questions or weight was put on Ms. Tucker's behavior on Death Row following her conviction and sentencing.  Mr. Rodriguez is quoted as saying that "commutation of a death sentence should be granted for only two reasons: actual innocence or a lack of due process."  [see a sample letter to the Paroles Board by Aboliton Now]

On Feb 2nd, the Paroles Board unanomously voted to deny Karla's clemency request: 16 nay, 2 abstains (one person always abstains).  "The board felt ... that given the information that we have about this case, that it ... does not recommend commuting the sentence from a death penalty to a lesser penalty," board chairman Victor Rodriguez told reporters at a news conference in Austin.  He also said that the gruesome nature of the case "carried a lot of weight" in the board's decisions.   Responding to the fact that Karla's and 16 previous clemency bids (in 1997) did not receive even a single vote for clemency, Mr. Rodriguez said, "No one has yet to make a strong enough case for commutation,"

Without a majority recommendation, Gov. Bush was denied any opportunity to commute Karla's sentence.  The Governor does have the authority to grant a one-time 30-day stay of execution to let the Paroles Board reconsider it's decision.

Karla's letter to Gov. George Bush asking him for a 30-day stay of execution

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The Execution

The US Supreme Court rejected without comment an appeal by Karla's lawyers to stay her execution.
On the day of her execution, the governor's office received 12,519 calls about the Tucker case running about 4-to-1 against executing her.

Gov. George Bush's statement denying a 30-day stay of execution
Karla's Final Statement prior to execution

Last Meal Request: Banana, Peach and Garden Salad with Ranch Dressing
Texas Execution Number: 145

Karla Faye Tucker was executed by the state of Texas on February 3rd by lethal injection.  The sentence was carried out sometime after 6:30pm and she was pronounced dead at 6:45pm.

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Post-Execution Statements

Richard Thornton, husband of one of Tucker's victims
"Justice for Deborah ... is complete."
" ... Fourteen and a half years ago, Karla Faye Tucker exploded my family.  Fourteen and a half years later, she brought my family back together again.  I have nothing but sympathy and sorrow for her family. They are now going through what we have been through.  My religion says to forgive, turn the other cheek. I'm not a perfect man. I've tried very hard. I still cannot do it.  I don't believe her Christianity; I don't believe her conversion. I never did; I never will."

Katheryn Thornton, stepdaughter of Deborah Thornton
"As she was dying, I did ask God to have mercy on her soul. It was the right thing to do. And her dying also was the right thing to do.  I cannot forgive her, but I have asked God to."

George "Mac" Secrest, Tucker's lead attorney from Houston
"(In) my last visit with her as her lawyer, her spirits were excellent.  She never faltered in any way about her faith. She told me over and over again how much love she had for her family members, certainly Dana Brown, her husband. ... typical, vintage Karla Faye Tucker Brown. She was at peace as (much as) one can be in that circumstance. And about four minutes later, the state of Texas got its way."

David Botsford, Tucker's Austin attorney
"The state of Texas killed a good person today. Karla Faye Tucker will forever live in our hearts, our souls, our minds. She is in a better place tonight than she was today."

Allan Polunsky, chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice
"The issues here were not religious conversion or gender, but rather culpability and accountability. Karla Faye Tucker brutally murdered two innocent people and was found guilty by the court and afforded all legal processes. Although I believe she finally found God, her religious awakening could in no way excuse or mitigate her actions in the world she just left, but hopefully will provide her redemption in the world she just entered."

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