When the death-row defendant is female

January 15, 1998|By Cal Thomas

SOME strong advocates of the death penalty for first-degree murderers are having second thoughts in the case of a Texas woman convicted of the ax murders of two Houston people in 1983. Karla Faye Tucker, 38, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Feb. 3.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson is one of those who has come to Tucker's defense. Mr. Robertson believes that Texas officials should spare her life because she says she has been born again.

The Rev. John Boyles of El Paso, Texas, agrees. Mr. Boyles thinks that attention should be focused on what Tucker has become, not what she did, and that who she is now, not who she was 15 years ago, is reason enough to spare her.

Flaws abound

Several flaws exist with this reasoning. First, Tucker was convicted and sentenced to death because she and her then-boyfriend, Daniel Ryan Garrett, stabbed or bludgeoned their victims at least 20 times with a pickax. The two had been on a drug binge for several days and had entered an apartment looking for money to buy more drugs when they were confronted by their victims, a man and a woman.

To allow people convicted of past acts to be absolved by future acts would ruin what is left of the criminal justice system. One of the ancillary benefits of having a death penalty is to force the guilty to confront their maker in this life before they meet him in the next and to make peace with God. To the extent that Tucker has done that, she will receive the reward given to all repentant sinners. But that doesn't mean that the state owes her less than any other convicted murderer should receive.

Which faiths qualify

That leads to the second flaw in logic for those favoring a reprieve. Would Pat Robertson and John Boyles favor commuting her sentence if she had converted to some other faith or, for that matter, if she had been of some other race or a man? Tucker is pretty, young, white and female -- four characteristics that tug at the heartstrings of a culture that values them. Anyone doubting this should recall the reaction to the death of Princess Diana. How many homely, black, male or older convicts enjoy the defense of such high-profile religious leaders as Mr. Robertson?

The third flaw is what message a reprieve would send, not only to convicted killers but also to those who might be plotting murder. If all you have to do is claim you have been born again, "revival" will surely break out in the prison system, and, instead of filing petitions with lawyers, inmates will start sending letters to religious broadcasters. Discerning which inmates are telling the truth will be impossible.

The death penalty is a way for society to validate the ultimate value of human life. It says that if you illegally take the life of another person, the only way society can ratify the value of that life is for your life to be forfeited. It depreciates life merely to deprive someone of liberty for murder. But in a culture that increasingly values life less at all stages (unless it is young, pretty, female and, for some, "converted"), why should some guilty lives on death row be protected if we are killing the innocents on "birth row" in abortion chambers?

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles should not grant clemency to Karla Faye Tucker unless there are extenuating circumstances -- other than her conversion -- of which we are currently unaware. If Tucker has truly been converted, she has already received the only pardon she will ever need.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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