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Karla Faye Tucker: Born again on death row

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(CNN) -- In 1998, Karla Faye Tucker became the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War. Before she died, the born-again Christian -- whose case sparked a debate over retribution and redemption -- apologized for hacking a man and woman to death with a pickax during a 1983 break-in.

Minutes before her execution, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush denied Tucker a one-time, 30-day reprieve, saying her cause had been thoroughly reviewed by appellate courts. The U.S. Supreme Court also rejected without comment two 11th-hour appeals to halt the execution.

A month before the execution, Larry King interviewed Tucker on death row at a Texas prison. Take a look at some of the excerpts of the interview, which won a news Emmy Award.

KING: She's on death row, scheduled to be executed in a matter weeks. A special interview with Karla Faye Tucker from a Texas prison.

This program tonight was taped about six hours ago here at the Mountain View Unit, Texas Department of Corrections, Gatesville, Texas, about a half hour from Waco, Texas. ... Does it get worse every day?

TUCKER: No. It gets a little more exciting every day.

KING: Interesting choice of words, Karla.


KING: Exciting, how?

TUCKER: Just to see how God is unfolding everything. Every day something new comes up and it's exciting to be a part of it because there's a lot going on, and it's going to affect a lot of people. And it's a blessing to be a part of it, and it's exciting to know that God has a plan for this.

KING: So you're not down?

TUCKER: No. I am not down. A little tired sometimes but not down.

KING: Not pessimistic?

TUCKER: No. Never pessimistic.

KING: Let's go back. You're a very attractive young girl. You're smart. What went wrong? What happened 14 years ago?

TUCKER: Bad choices, drugs.

KING: Bad boyfriend?

TUCKER: That too, yes. A bad choice in boyfriends.

KING: How old were you?

TUCKER: I was 23.

KING: Had you had a troubled youth?


KING: Had a problem growing up?

TUCKER: I did.

KING: Like?

TUCKER: A lot of drugs, a lot of anger and confusion, no real guidance, I was just out of hand, and had no guidance at a certain point in my life when I was most impressionable and probably could have been steered the right way. There wasn't anybody there to steer me.

KING: Where was mother and father?

TUCKER: My mother was doing drugs, and she lived a very wild life. My father had tried up to certain point, but he had no control. My mother had him under a threat that if he laid a hand on us or did anything to us, she'd have him put in jail.

KING: So you had no parenting?

TUCKER: When I was very young, probably up until about six or seven I did. ...

KING: What happened on that terrible day?

TUCKER: The details of what happened that night, I don't share. I mean, that's the worst night of my life, and I don't -- with how I feel now, I don't relive that night.

KING: Do you think it was another person?

TUCKER: Yes, it was definitely.

KING: For the facts, for the benefit of the audience, two people were murdered that night.

TUCKER: Two people were brutally murdered.

KING: By you and your boyfriend?


KING: What were you doing there?

TUCKER: We were there to do -- there's a term called "case the joint out."

KING: Look it over.

TUCKER: Right, yes.

KING: You were going rob?

TUCKER: Not that night, no. We were looking the place over to at some point in time that night go back there, and go in and steal a motorcycle. That night was a spur of the moment decision to go over there. And unfortunately, two people were killed ...

KING: How, to yourself, do you explain that? I know you don't want to -- so forgetting the details, how do you explain it to yourself that I was involved in a violent slaying?

TUCKER: I can't -- I can't make sense out of it. I don't know how to make sense out of it except that the choices that I made to do drugs, to buckle to peer pressure and everything else -- it was inevitable that something like that was going to happen in my life.

KING: Why for a motorcycle?

TUCKER: Well, that's -- I could sit here and share that with you. But I don't want to take away from what happened that night, you know? I mean, I can give you all kind of excuses for that, but I don't want to do that.

KING: In other words you could rationalize it too in a lot of -- were you high that night?

TUCKER: Yes, I was.

KING: Did you enjoy the violence?

TUCKER: I said I did. I was -- at that time in my life, I was very excited about doing different crazy, violent things, yes. It was a part of me that was used to fit in with the crowd that I was hanging around to be accepted.

KING: The people who were killed were not known to you, right, or were they?

TUCKER: The male was. Jerry was. He was married to my best friend.

KING: Really?


KING: And the girl, unknown?

TUCKER: Unknown.

KING: And both you and your boyfriend participated in the death of both people.


KING: Were you caught right away?

TUCKER: No. It was about a month and a half -- or a little over a month later.

KING: What -- did you leave town?

TUCKER: No. We stayed there. We not only stayed -- it was really crazy, Larry. I mean, that -- that lifestyle was so crazy. I don't think I can explain it except to me. I was so spaced out on drugs all the time that it really didn't seem real to me.

KING: Did you walk around with any guilt?


KING: None?

TUCKER: I not only didn't walk around without any guilt, I was proud of thinking that I had finally measured up to the big boys.

KING: Your boyfriend was proud of you?

TUCKER: Yes. Isn't that sick? That's crazy.

KING: No guilt?

TUCKER: None, none back then. I didn't -- I didn't care about anybody. I didn't care about myself. I didn't place any value on myself or anybody else. ...

KING: How were you arrested?

TUCKER: Danny's brother, my partner in crime, my boyfriend -- his brother came in and he had a wire on him and he sat down on the bed, and he asked us about the crime, and we shared detail for detail every step from what happened that night, what made us decide to go over there all the way through to when everything was over. And as soon as he got all of that, he left out of the house, and the police busted in.

KING: Were you angry at him? Must have been then?

TUCKER: I was shocked. I was probably a little bit angry at him and my sister, and yet, I wanted to understand. I mean, we're the ones who put them through it. I am the one that did that to them. (sobbing)

So while I wanted to be angry, I couldn't be.

KING: What -- hard to put this -- what's it like to kill someone?

TUCKER: It's horrible. I mean, to know that you take a human life, a very valuable, precious human life -- it's probably the most horrible thing anybody could do, and I try not to take myself back to that night.

KING: OK. Do you feel that if circumstances were different -- let's say you hadn't found the Lord you found and the feelings you have -- do you deserve to be executed by the state?

TUCKER: I deserved a big punishment. I personally don't believe in capital punishment. I don't believe in abortion or euthanasia, so...

KING: Therefore, no one should be capitally punished by the state, male, female...

TUCKER: I believe that -- male, female, otherwise. But certainly, a very serious sentence for something like that needs to be done, yes.

KING: The argument for you gains a great deal of attention because you're a woman. We could dare say if you were man we wouldn't be here and you wouldn't be getting a lot of attention, unless a lot of prominent people were speaking up for you. Do you think that's true?

TUCKER: I think that it's true that a lot of people are -- this is bringing attention to a lot of people. I think it's very unfortunate, though, because male or female, people need to be considered individually on their own merits, and there are certainly men out there who have drastically changed their lives through the love of God. Jesus has gone down into their hearts and completely changed them, and they have become caring people. They have changed. They're now helping others. And they deserve to -- for that to be acknowledged in their lives, too. ...

KING: How did you find God?

TUCKER: I was in the county. About three months after I had been...

KING: County jail?

TUCKER: Harris County Jail.

KING: That's Houston?

TUCKER: Yes. And a ministry came to that jail to do a service, a puppet show, one night and everybody in my tank was going out to the puppet show and I didn't want to stay alone in my tank, so I decided to go with them and socialize in church. Well, actually, when I walked through the door I never said a word, so I never did any socializing, but when I went back to my tank that night, something got down in there and I had grabbed a Bible. I stole this Bible not realizing Bibles were given out free in jail, 'cause I'd never been there. So...

KING: Never were a churchgoer or anything?

TUCKER: I was never -- no. And had never been in jail. I didn't know that they gave out Bibles out free in here to those who needed them. So I took this Bible into my cell, and I hid way back in the corner so nobody could see me, because I was like really proud. I didn't want anybody to think I was being weak and reading this Bible. I realize now, you have to be stronger to walk with the Lord in here than you do to not walk with him.

It's a whole lot harder, let me tell you. But anyway, that night I started reading the Bible. I didn't know what I was reading and before I knew it, I was just -- I was in the middle of my floor on my knees and I was just asking God to forgive me.

KING: How do we know, as a lot of people would ask who don't know you, that this isn't a jail house conversion?

TUCKER: I don't try and convince people of that. For me, if you can't look at me and see it then nothing I can say to you is going to convince you. I just live it every day and I reach out to people and it's up them to receive from the Lord the same way I did when somebody came to me. ... There is evidence, consistent evidence, in a person's life.

And I'll tell you what, I've been in here 14 1/2 years, and it can be a pressure cooker. I mean, you have different personalities.

You have people who are still violently acting out in here. If I was going to do anything, it would have happened by now. But it hasn't. ...

KING: Do you think that a part of the anger that the state may have or people may have, is the method that the victims died?

TUCKER: Oh, yes.

KING: Because there were axes -- axes were involved, a lot of blood. It was a horrible death, right? Do you think that plays into this?

TUCKER: Yes, I do. And if -- if you were to execute me, you could, without using me being a continual threat to society, if someone wanted to, they could use the brutal -- the brutality of that crime itself --.

KING: In other words, ax you to death?

TUCKER: Yeah. I mean, it was horrible. It was. And there are people out there who are in pain because -- I mean, every single day they have to think about that. They live it every day with birthdays and holidays, and maybe a smell that triggers a memory, so it's not -- I -- I realize that. I mean, I -- I think about them all the time. And I know that they're going through pain. ...

KING: Finally, you remain up.


KING: You have to explain that to me a little more. It can't just be God?

TUCKER: Yes, it can. It's called the joy of the Lord. I don't -- when you have done something that I have done, like what I have done, and you have been forgiven for it, and you're loved, that has a way of so changing you. I mean, I have experienced real love. I know what real love is. I know what forgiveness is, even when I did something so horrible. I know that because God forgave me and I accepted what Jesus did on the cross. When I leave here, I am going to go be with him.


Karla Faye Tucker was sentenced to execution for her part in the slayings of two people.


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