A gracEmail subscriber in Tennessee asks, “What are your thoughts — as a believer, an attorney, and a Texan — concerning Karla Faye Tucker? I am so thrilled by her witness to God’s redemptive power. But I fear for a nation whose leadership is so concerned about doing justice (vengeance?) that it has forgotten what it means to love mercy. Texans shown on TV here appear so cold and vengeful that it’s scary. I would love to get your perspective.”
Most of the civilized world knows that on February 3, 1998, the State of Texas executed Karla Faye Tucker by lethal injection for the pickax murders of two people some 15 years before, making her the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War. Several years ago, after her sentencing and incarceration, she encountered Jesus Christ and became a born-again Christian. Her execution followed numerous unsuccessful appeals to state and federal courts, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and to Gov. George W. Bush.
I will state at the first that I do believe in capital punishment for cold-blooded murderers. I base that on God’s statement to Noah that “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man” (Gen. 9:5-6), on the Mosaic principle that “blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made except by the blood of him who shed it” (Num. 35:33), and on Paul’s teaching that civil government carries the “sword” as God’s avenging agent in a just society (Rom. 13:1-5). I also believe in clemency, under some circumstances, since God spared Cain, the first murderer, and he both spared and greatly used an Old Testament murderer named David and a New Testament murderer named Saul of Tarsus. Some fine Christians disagree with me, and I respect their convictions, but these are mine at the present time.
I am absolutely convinced that Karla Faye Tucker died a child of God and that she is now asleep in Jesus. While that gave her eternal life, it did not abolish the earthly consequences of her heinous crime. The Apostle Peter suggests that if even Christians commit murder or theft, they will have to suffer the punishment for those evil deeds (1 Pet. 3:17; 4:15-16). Karla Faye Tucker understood and accepted that reality with Christian grace and humility. She faced death with a smile on her face and strong trust in God in her heart — exalting Christ, I firmly believe, by her death as also by her final years of life.
Before a Texas jury can impose the death penalty, it must first find, among other things, that the convicted person will present an ongoing threat to society. The jury which convicted Karla Faye Tucker 15 years ago and sentenced her to die so found. After a decade-and-a-half delay in carrying out the sentence, a common postponement which serves neither justice nor mercy, that clearly was no longer the case. Because a legal prerequisite for her death sentence ceased to exist (not because of her gender or her spiritual conversion), I believe it would have been legally and morally appropriate for the Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend that Governor Bush commute Karla Faye Tucker’s sentence to life in prison, even though that would include the possibility of parole.
Current Texas law does not provide murder juries with a sentencing option of life imprisonment without parole. It empowers the Board of Pardons and Parole to recommend clemency but offers board members no guidance or guidelines for making such an decision. Without a BPP recommendation, the Texas governor can only stay an execution for 30 days, a meaningless delay once appeals to all courts have been exhausted. This execution might possibly prompt the Texas legislature to pass new laws remedying some of these deficiencies but, given the political climate, that appears highly unlikely.
As a Christian I was appalled and as a Texan I was embarrassed by the carnival atmosphere surrounding the execution, especially by the vulgar celebration and glee of some who advocated the death penalty outside the Walls death chamber. As the time came for Karla Faye Tucker to die, I knelt beside my bed and prayed for God to strengthen her with a sense of his loving presence and to receive her safely to himself. When the television announcer recounted her final words and described the death scene, I shook with sobs and wept. If capital punishment is nothing more than angry vengeance it ought to be abolished. As a tool of justice, its implementation is surely a sober, if necessary, tragedy.