In 1983, Deborah Thornton and Jerry Dean were killed with a pickaxe, a fairly gruesome way to die by any definition. Daniel Garrett and Karla Faye Tucker were convicted of the murders. Garrett died in prison; Tuesday, the state of Texas plans to execute Tucker in the death house at Huntsville.
The Lone Star State has executed no woman since 1863, so the Tucker case has drawn a great deal of attention, and not just from the usual death-penalty opponents. Evangelist and onetime Presidential wannabe Pat Robertson has weighed in with a request for clemency, justifying the request by citing Tucker's conversion to Christianity and her record of social work within the prison walls.
This leaves Texas governor George W. Bush in a bind, since Robertson pulls the strings for the Christian Coalition. Republican politicians in general, and Texas Republican politicians in particular, tend to try to avoid crossing swords with the Coalition, whose trash-and-smear politics have been uniquely successful in recent years and Mr Bush must soon face reelection.
Now, I never have thought very highly of capital punishment; its implementation in this country has always seemed to be haphazard at best and horrendously biased to boot. Then again, I am very much a minority in this viewpoint: the American public has always responded favorably to the death penalty. And the same public, myself included here, disapproves loudly of perceived bias by the government. I suspect, therefore, that most Texans would just as soon see Karla Faye Tucker executed on schedule. If she were to be granted clemency because she is a woman, or because her faith is approved by Pat Robertson, or for whatever reason, the people are going to want to know why she is getting preferential treatment from the system.
Governor Bush, however, shows no signs of giving her any such treatment. "I believe we should treat the Karla Faye Tucker case like any other death-row case," he says. And in Texas, where executions are as regular as phases of the moon, Mr Bush has had ample opportunity to see other cases, some of which have most assuredly involved prisoners "getting religion", and has not seen fit to intervene in them.
For myself, I hope the governor sticks to his, er, guns. No matter how sincere Tucker is in her conversion, until she persuades the Almighty to bring back Jerry Dean and Deborah Thornton, she hasn't really paid her dues. Religious conversion (any religion, I'm not at all picky), while it may score points in some nebulous hereafter, essentially counts for nothing in the here and now and if Pat Robertson is involved, probably less than nothing. God bless you, Karla Faye. Now off with you.
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Copyright © 1998 by Charles G. Hill