For Karla Faye Tucker the act of murder was something sexual...
On her last day, she ate a garden salad, a banana and a peach. She wrote letters, said goodbye to her loved ones and prayed. At quarter to seven that night, she made her way to the death chamber.
‘I am so sorry,’ she said as she was strapped to the bed, ready for her lethal injection.
A few moments later, an announcement was made to the crowds waiting outside Huntsville State Prison, Texas.
Karla Faye Tucker was dead.
Some cheered. She was a murderer – she’d taken two innocent lives.
Her execution had been controversial. Even the then Pope John Paul II had pleaded for her life.
But who was Karla Faye Tucker? And how had she ended up as the first woman to be executed in Texas in 135 years?
She was born 1959, in Houston, Texas, the third of three sisters.
Life at home was difficult. Her parents Larry and Carolyn, were always splitting up and getting back together. They argued about infidelity.
Finally, in 1969, the couple separated for good.
It was a bad time for Karla. Not only was her parents’ marriage over, but she’d started to feel different. Her older sisters had blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin. But Karla was dark.
Still, the bond between sisters was close, and at around this age, the older girls introduced the young Karla to cigarettes.
Did Karla give into the peer pressure just to feel like she belonged?
But there were even tougher times ahead for Karla. As her parents divorced, she found out why she didn’t look like her sisters.
Karla Faye was the outcome of an extramarital affair.
The man she thought was her father wasn’t her father at all.
By now she was smoking cannabis as well as cigarettes. And by the time was 11, she’d started on heroin.
It’s well known that drug use at a young age can result in delayed psychological development. When she grew up, was Karla capable of thinking and rationalising like other adults?
She started hanging out with older boys who introduced her to sex. Karla’s mother had by this time turned to prostitution to make ends meet. Karla was 14 when her mum asked her to become a prostitute herself, too.
Soon, Karla and her mum were hanging out together. Her mum was a huge fan of rock music and often took Karla to gigs around the country. Karla loved it.
Before long she was a groupie, following her favourite bands from state to state, drinking and partying.
It was through rock music that Karla met Danny Garrett.
She found him attractive, charismatic, cool.
The two were soon lovers, spending weekends listening to music and taking drugs.
It’s unclear what happened next, what pushed them towards crime. But Karla and Danny agreed to break into the home of their friend, Jerry Dean.
Jerry owned an El Camino motorbike. Karla and Danny wanted it.
That night, once they’d broken into his house, Karla and Danny snuck into Jerry’s bedroom. Karla climbed on top of Jerry as he slept.
In the struggle that ensued, Danny smacked Jerry on the back of the head with a hammer. Karla attacked him with a pickaxe, with Danny delivering the fatal blow.
Danny left the room to look for the bike. Once alone in the bloodied bedroom, Karla noticed a woman was hiding under Jerry’s bed. Deborah Thornton. Jerry had met her that evening at a party.
Karla reached for the pickax. She struck Deborah over and over, finally leaving the pickax embedded in Deborah’s heart.
She would later speak in interviews of how killing was a sexual act for her, how she experienced orgasm with each thrust of the axe.
After the bodies were discovered the next morning, police investigations soon led to Karla and Danny.
They were arrested, and three months later stood trial separately.
Both received the death sentence.
Danny died in prison ten years later in 1993 of liver disease before his sentence could be carried out.
Karla’s sentence, however, would be fulfilled.
Before her execution in 1998, Karla repented. She turned to God, became a Christian.
And she invited Deborah’s brother to witness her execution – her way of offering him the ‘only compensation she could provide.’
Many supporters believed she truly regretted her actions, that her new found faith wasn’t just an ‘act’ to win clemency. Tucker also claimed to be under the influence of the drugs at the time of the murder. But her appeals for a stay of execution were turned down.
Karla was a monster. But perhaps her life could have been different if she’d not been lured into drugs and prostitution at such a tender age?
No one would have been more grateful for that than Karla Faye Tucker’s tragic victims.