Editorial: The Lesson of Karla Faye Tucker
Evangelical instincts against her execution were right, but not because she was a Christian.
April 6, 1998
When Timothy McVeigh was on trial for the Oklahoma City bombing, a Denver radio station set up a checkpoint where people could honk their horns if they thought McVeigh was guilty and ought to be executed. In just a few days, over 24,000 Coloradans honked their judgment that McVeigh should be "fried." The enormity of McVeigh's deed knocked many death-penalty fence sitters off the rail: If ever there was a case in which capital punishment is justified, they thought, this is it.
But then, on the heels of the McVeigh trial, the case of Karla Faye Tucker upset the usual alignments on capital punishment (see p. 19). A Texas woman who killed two people with a pickax, Tucker was later born again and then executed for her crimes. Rich Cizik, policy analyst for the National Association of Evangelicals, said, "It's no secret that evangelicals have been stalwarts behind the death penalty." But Tucker's execution, he said, produced a "moral revulsion" among evangelicals "because she is a woman of such obvious spiritual change." This change led Pat Robertson and other conservative leaders to plead her case. "Any justice system that is worthy of the name must have room for mercy," said Robertson. Executing Tucker "is more an act of vengeance than it is appropriate justice."
Some of the usual death-penalty opponents were skeptical, saying such leaders would not be able to hold to that position for long. "Conservative voters will start to ask," said Samuel Jordan of Amnesty International, "'Well, if I think it's OK to commute the death sentence this time, is it just for women that we're doing this, or for male prisoners as well?'"
But Pat Nolan, senior vice president of Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM), predicted "a lot of conversations around ...
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