I was in Austin last week on business (February 1998) while the state was busy killing Karla Fay Tucker. She was the white, appealing, born-again Christian axe murder who is the first woman to be executed by Texas since the 1860's, and the first in the United States since the 1980's.
I wish I had had the time to go to Huntsville and look into people's faces. Instead, I watched the endlessly replayed interviews with her, in which she asked for clemency but said she was prepared for her fate. Texas executes one or two people every month--it kills more people, and has more waiting to be killed, than any other state. Rarely do any attract as much attention as Karla Fay, and there were a lot of reasons for the spectacle: rarely do we execute women; we execute white people, especially well-groomed ones, far less often than all other groups; we have pangs about executing the redeemed, though as many people pointed out that week (Governor Bush included), everyone gets religion when facing execution. Nevertheless, it is not every day that Pat Robertson and his Christian Coalition campaign for the life of a killer.
The Texas clemency board follows no written criteria, is not required to meet in person, and hasn't granted anyone clemency in many years. Why bother having one at all? Governor Bush piously said that he would allow a higher power to dispose of Karla Fay--but it was humans who put her at the needle point of a lethal injection.
The morning paper said that the execution would happen at five if the governor didn't act. At six o'clock, I returned to my hotel and turned on the television to hear that Karla Fay had been killed by the state: strapped to a gurney, and injected with a lethal drug, much as Dr. Mengele did to his victims in Auschwitz. And there was Richard Thornton, the bereaved husband of one of Karla Fay's victims, postulating that his dead wife would murder Karla Fay in heaven: "Now Debbie can take care of her. And it won't be a pretty sight." Around him were teenagers, girls sitting on boys' shoulders, exulting and cheering for death.
Karla Fay Tucker should have been spared. Not because she was female, not because she was attractive, not because she was born-again or white. Karla Fay should not have been killed because the process that began when she deprived Debra Thornton of life--turned her into a thing--culminated by turning Richard Thornton into an animal. And all of us. There is no redemption and no justice in such killing, only degradation. The television image I will retain the longest was a sign: "Don't kill for me."