Karla Faye Tucker
I belong to a few Facebook groups that deal with true crime and the other day Karla's name was mentioned asking members their thoughts on her case. I have always know a little about her but not the deep specifics and it just so happened that the next name on my list was Karla. In general after I search a case I will compose it but on occasion I will do a few others before I sit down to put them together. Many of the names on my list are in “groups.” What I mean by that is when I put them on a list I have often gotten the names from the same area. This particular group apparently came from a list of women executed in the United States. Although I researched Karla's case before Velma Barfield I decided to publish Velma's case first because she was the first woman executed after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.... Karla was the second.
While so it is common for death row inmates to have a group of supporters, many simply because they are anti-death penalty, Karla's case was a bit different. Much like Velma Barfield there were some that were against her execution simply because she was a woman. Karla herself would advocate against the death penalty but stressed that her gender should not play a role in anything. The other most common thing mentioned about those who have been sentenced to death is the idea that they have “found God” and have become deeply religious and rehabilitated while in prison. I mentioned this in the Velma Barfield case as being something I saw as a complete ploy, which is quite often the case. I feel a bit differently about Karla Faye, but the question in the end lies with if any of these things are enough to commute a death sentence.
I have often said here that when it comes to the death penalty I do not have super strong feelings either way necessarily. I will say that there are those cases in which I think are so horrendous and there is no doubt as to who the perpetrator is, then I have few issues with a sentence. I also believe that when it comes to the death penalty a state should either use it or not and use it in a timely fashion. At this time several states have not executed inmates in several years as their death penalty statue is in question. As of 2016 California had over 700 people on death row and have not executed anyone in over ten years. These prisoners cost tax payers much more money than even those sentenced to life through appeals, court orders, and special housing.
When it comes to Karla Faye I believe that she fell into a “bad time” in Texas when it came to executions. Karla Faye was executed on February 3, 1998 at a time when George W. Bush was governor. It was during his reign that 131 people were executed by the state. It was during this era that jokes were being made that Texas had an “express lane” to their execution chamber. They were executing people at an almost alarming rate. Now, I know I just said I feel that states need to step it up in their executions if in fact they are going to enact them, but there's also the issue of not dotting i's and crossing t's. The state of Texas would later discover that through DNA and other measures there were several people on death row who were in fact innocent and they scaled back their executions. There have also been at least a few that were executed during this time in which questions have been raised as to if Texas executed innocent people. Now, to be fair, Karla Faye did not fall into this category. While yes, she attempted to deny her participation throughout her trial, once she was convicted she never again denied her role. Sure there are questions as to whether she did not downplay her participation to look a bit less guilty, and the issue that often she would not discuss the specifics of the crime, even right up to just before her execution, but at the core of the issue she took the blame.
The latter question as her execution drew near became if she had become rehabilitated while in prison and if that should have excused her from the death penalty. There were several mitigating circumstances in Karla Faye's case. A mitigating circumstance is one which in essence explains how a person got to a point in which they committed the crime. Now, this is what some call a tactic by defense attorney's to lower the culpability of defendants that have been convicted. The most often used argument is a bad childhood, where allegations of abuse and neglect are presented but the problem is that much of the time these allegations cannot be proven. Supporters, such as friends and family will come out of the woodwork it seems at times and attempt to substantiate things like abuse or even head injuries that occurred and argue a change in behavior at a particular time. Still just someone saying these things does not offer proof, and even still you are often left with the question of at what point do we expect people to take responsibility for their own actions and stop blaming their childhood. That being said, I do believe that Karla Faye's situation was a bit worse than the average allegations and the difference here seems to be that much of it was proven and collaborated.
Karla Faye's parents divorced when she was rather young. It has been said that it was at the time of their divorce that Karla Faye learned that she had been a product not of the marriage but of an affair. This likely contributed to her continued strained relationship with her father. It also did not help that Karla Faye's mother apparently showed no guidance to her children, especially Karla Faye. By Karla Faye's account she was smoking marijuana at the age of ten and had moved on to heroin by the age of thirteen. By the time she was fourteen and dropped out of school her mother, who had apparently began a career as a prostitute had recruited Karla Faye into her lifestyle. For the next few years mother and daughter became what is referred to as a “groupie” where they followed rock bands like The Eagles and The Gregg Allman Band. Just after she turned twenty years old her mother died at the age of forty-three. By then Karla Faye had moved on from being a groupie and had graduated to being involved in the lifestyle associated with motorcycle gangs in the late 1970's. Drugs and crime went hand in hand for Karla Faye and there seemed to be no one to pull her back, not that it mattered now as it was apparently too late.
By 1983 Karla Faye was dating a man named Daniel Garrett. One of her best friends was named Shawn Dean. The group of people they all associated with were fueled by drugs and alcohol. On the night of June 13, 1983 Karla Faye, Daniel, Shawn, a man named James Leibrant and several others were doing what they always did.... partying while they drank and did drugs. Karla Faye, Daniel and James all left the party and headed to Jerry Dean's home. Jerry was Shawn's husband but it is unclear what the status of their relationship was at that time. There seemed to be a few different stories that went around as to exactly why the trio went to Jerry Dean's home and Karla Faye never seemed to pin that down before her execution. Some say they went to case the place because they had plans to steal a motorcycle that Jerry Dean was fixing that he kept in his apartment at a later time. Others day they were just planning to steal the motorcycle and still others claim the motive was to harm Jerry Dean who some say Karla Faye despised.
On the morning of June 14th a co-worker who had expected a ride from Jerry Dean went to his home when he did not show up and found not just twenty-seven year old Jerry Dean's body but also the body of thirty-two year old Deborah Thornton. Each had been stabbed several times with a pickax and the weapon was still embedded in Deborah Thornton's body. Authorities initially had no leads. Sometime later a man by the name of Douglas Garrett contacted a friend of his that was a police detective and told him that his brother, Daniel and Daniel's girlfriend Karla Faye Tucker were responsible for the murders.
Over time Douglas cooperated with the police and eventually even wore a wire where he was able to get Daniel and Karla Faye confessing to what happened. They were immediately arrested and over time so was James Leibrant apparently.
Karla Faye pleaded not guilty at her trial. Prosecutors would call several witnesses who would claim that Karla Faye had confessed to them and had even expressed that she had felt sexual gratification for each blow that she administered. James Leibrant would also testify against both Karla Faye and Daniel Garrett, who was tried separately, as to his supposed role. He would claim that he went to the apartment with the couple but that he had been outside when the couple was killed and only reluctantly helped Garrett hide Jerry Dean's car after his life was threatened. At Karla Faye's trial he was asked if he was given any sort of plea deal to which he stated no. Years later Karla Faye's attorney's would file an appeal based on their theory that James Leibrant, while not given an official deal, had been promised by prosecutors a sentence “in the single digits.” Prosecutors denied this and the appeal failed.
Piecing things together, while still being a little ambivalent as to the official motive, prosecutors would claim that Karla Faye and Daniel Garrett had stolen a key to the apartment from Shawn Dean and entered the home around 3am. Jerry Dean was obviously in his room sleeping, but apparently not alone. Prosecutors theorized that the couple went straight to the bedroom where Karla Faye sat on Jerry Dean to restrain him. At some point Jerry Dean grabbed Karla Faye and Daniel Garrett picked up a ball-peen hammer from the floor and hit Jerry Dean about the head. While Garrett went out to the living room to gather the motorcycle and its accessories. Jerry Dean was not dead and by Karla Faye's story was making a “gurgling” sound. She found a pickax against the wall in the room, grabbed it and proceeded to hit Jerry Dean multiple times with it. When it was all over Karla Faye and Daniel Garrett noticed someone else was in the room and apparently knowing that Jerry Dean had called her out by name several times they, or Karla Faye alone, proceeded to attack Deborah with the pickax also. They left the apartment in shambles with the motorcycle in tow and two dead bodies inside. They went to Douglas Garrett's home where they relayed their story of the night, dropped off the motorcycle and took off on the run.
At his trial Daniel Garrett would be convicted and also sentenced to death. He would die in prison in 1993 of what was described as “liver disease.” Exactly what James Leibrant got is unknown although it does sound as if he got the “single digit” he claims he was promised.
For her part as I stated earlier, once convicted Karla Faye never denied being responsible. At the time of her trial Deborah Thornton's family advocated for the death penalty but by the time she was executed her brother felt differently. I found little on any reactions from Jerry Dean's family and despite Deborah's husband and children attending her execution it was said no one from Jerry Dean's family was present.
Here though is where Karla Faye's story puts me on the fence with her. The last blog I published on Velma Barfield talked about those who had fought against her execution at least in part to her “born again Christian” status. I stated then, as I do here, that is often something you see, but in my opinion most of those claims are ploys for sympathy and not accurate. In Velma's case she had attended church regularly most of her life. Karla Faye had not. I do believe that she fell into the rare category of inmate who did “find God,” rehabilitated and was remorseful for her actions. Does that erase what she did? Absolutely not. But, in the same respect not only was she a model prisoner herself but she spent her time helping others, not just reading the bible to them but taught many to read, counseled them on clean and sober living and helped them find skills that would better them when they were released. She truly did appear to be reformed. That does not mean that she ever should have been released from prison, but it does make the death penalty seem more harsh and senseless. Many asked themselves what the point of executing her would be at that point. Then of course there were those that argued she had been given the sentence through the a court of justice and she was ordered to pay the ultimate price... her life... something she took from two other people.
On February 3, 1998 she became the first woman in Texas to be executed since 1863 and only the second woman in the United States since 1976. A man by the name of Fred Allen had been in charge of her execution as well as over 120 others. Karla Faye's execution truly affected him and within just a few days he suffered a breakdown. He soon quit his job and forfeited his pension saying her execution in particular took a toll on him. I believe that if Karla Faye Tucker were on death row today her sentence would be commuted to life, not because she was a woman but because most feel she did reform herself.