First Women in 135 Years Executed in Texas: Karla Tucker

Not many women offenders get executed. Here’s the story of Karla Fay Tucker who was the first woman executed in Texas in 135 years.
Deborah Ruth Thornton

Karla Fay Tucker was born on November 18, 1959. Tucker would be commonly referred to as an American woman on death row for murdering to individuals during a burglary with her pickaxe.

Tucker would be the first woman to be executed in all the United States since Velma Barfield was executed in 1984. Tucker would be the first woman in Texas to be executed since Chipita Rodriguez was executed in 1863.

Tucker was convicted of a 1984 murder in Texas would be executed by the lethal injection method after sitting on Texas death row for nearly 14 years.

Due to Tucker’s gender and her publicized conversion to Christianity after she was on the Texas death row, she would end up inspiring many people nationally and internationally. Tucker would inspire so many people that they started advocating she gets her sentence changed to life in prison without parole rather than the death penalty.

Tucker’s Early Life

Karla Fay Tucker was born on November 18, 1959, in Houston Texas. Tucker along with her three older sisters were all raised in Houston, Texas. Larry, Tucker’s father was a longshoreman.

The marriage between her parents was a rocky one. Tucker would start smoking cigarettes along with her older sisters when she was only 8 years old.

When Tucker’s parents finally got a divorce, Tucker was only 10-years old. Tucker would soon learn after that her birth was due to her mom having an extramarital affair.

By the time Tucker was 12 years old, she started having sex and doing drugs. Tucker would then drop out of school by the time she was 14 years old and start following in her mom, Carolyn’s footsteps. Her mom was a rock groupie and turned to prostitution and traveled alongside the Allman Brothers Band, the Eagles, and the Marshall Tucker Band.

When Tucker was 16, she was married for a short time to Stephen Griffith, a mechanic. When Tucker was in her early 20s, she started hanging out with the biker crowd and she would soon meet a woman called Shawn Dean along with her husband, Jerry Lynn Dean. The couple would soon introduce her to a 35-year-old named Daniel Ryan Garret. Soon after meeting Garret the two would turn into a couple.

Murders

After spending a typical weekend doing drugs with Garret, both Garret and Tucker would go to Jerry Dean’s apartment in the Houston area at approximately 3 am on June 13, 1983 with the intent of stealing Dean’s motorcycle that he was currently in the process of resorting.

A friend of Tucker and Garret, James Liebrandt went with the couple to the Dean’s apartment. Liebrandt stated that he went looking for Dean’s beloved El Camino, while the other couple entered the Dean’s apartment with a set of keys, they stole from Shawn Dean.

During this burglary, Garrett and Tucker would enter the Dean’s master bedroom. Tucker would sit on Jerry. Jerry would end up grabbing Tucker right above her elbows trying to protect himself, but this is when Garrett started to intervene.

Garrett then struck dean many times in the back of his head using a ball-peen hammer that he picked up off the floor. After Garrett hit Dean, he left the master bedroom to take the motorcycle parts from their apartment.

Tucker would remain in the Dean’s master bedroom. The blows that Garrett had administered to Dean caused Dean to make gurgling sounds. These sounds made Tucker go crazy and wanted him to stop the sounds, so she bent over and picked up her three-foot pickaxe and began hitting Dean.

As Garrett was walking back into the Dean’s master bedroom, he watched as Tucker was administering the last and final blow to Dean’s chest.

Garrett would then leave the bedroom once again to continue taking the motorcycle parts out of the Dean’s apartment.

Tucker once again stayed in the Dean’s master bedroom. This is when she noticed a woman who was hidden under the bed covers right up against the wall. Deborah Ruth Thornton was the woman who was lying next to Jerry Dean. Thornton had an argument with her husband just the day prior and ended up spending the next evening in the Dean’s household in bed next to Jerry Dean.

Upon Tucker discovering Mrs. Thornton, Tucker then grazed Thornton’s shoulder with her pickaxe.

This is when Tucker and Thornton started to struggle, but Garrett returned just in time to separate the women. Tucker would then proceed to administer blows to Mrs. Thornton with her pickaxe until her pickaxe was embedded into Thornton’s heart.

Tucker would later testify that she experienced with many orgasms as she administered each blow with her pickaxe.

The very next morning one of Jerry’s coworkers who was waiting for Jerry to give him a ride would enter Jerry’s apartment and find the two people slain in the master bedroom.

Police would not officially apprehend Garrett and Tucker until 5 weeks after the murders.

Trial

Then in September 1983, Garret and Tucker would be indicted for the murders of Debbie Thornton and Jerry Dean. The two would be tried separately for their roles in the crimes.

Tucker would ultimately be charged with the murders of Thornton and Dean, but once she testified in court against Garret during his trial, the murder charge of killing Thornton would be dropped.

However, Garrett would not be charged for the murder of Thornton either.

Tucker would have to enter a plea of not guilty and was jailed immediately while she waited for her pending trial. Soon after she was in prison, Tucker would take to the prison ministry program and read the Bible religiously while she was in her cell. In October of 1983, Tucker would become a Christian.

Then in 1995 Tucker would marry by proxy Reverend Dana Lane Brown, prison minister. They held her a Christian wedding ceremony inside the state prison.

Execution

While Tucker was sitting on death row in Texas, she was held in the Mountain View Unit which is situated in Gatesville, Texas. Tucker’s death row inmate number was 777.

Then on the day of February 2, 1998, Texas authorities would take Tucker from her cell in the Mountain View Unit and fly her on a TDCJ plan and bring her to the Huntsville Unit.

Tucker requested the following for her last meal prior to execution:

  • Garden salad with a side of ranch dressing
  • A peach
  • A banana

Tucker would pick out four people to watch her execution. These people included the following:

  • Dana Brown, her spouse
  • Kari Weeks, her sister
  • Ronald Carlson, her close friend
  • Jackie Oncken, her close friend

Tucker was executed on February 3, 1998, by lethal injection. As the prison officials started administering the drugs, Tucker started praising Jesus. Tucker would be pronounced dead just 8 minutes after receiving the lethal injection at 6:45 pm. Tucker’s grave can be found at the Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery.