Tucker Death Exposes System without Mercy

National Catholic Reporter, February 20, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Tucker Death Exposes System without Mercy

Saudi Arabia is among the handful of nations that continues to inflict capital punishment. Beheading is the favored technique. However, in accordance with Islamic law, mercy is built into the system. The executioner, sword raised, can be stopped even at the last moment: A word of mercy from a family member of a victim, and the killing is halted.

By contrast, Karla Faye Tucker's execution earlier this month in Texas revealed a merciless justice system. Mercy exists on paper all right, but politics and the current mood of the country leave no room for it. That was perhaps the most chilling aspect to the latest U.S. execution (see story, page 3).

Gov. George W. Bush could have extended a reprieve up to the last minute. Tucker had begged him to spare her life. All involved recognized she was not the same drug-driven woman who had brutally pickaxed to death two innocents 14 years earlier. No, Tucker had reformed, found Jesus in prison and, by all accounts, was a model inmate, making contributions to the lives of other inmates in prison.

Her plea for mercy had gone before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, a board that had never reprieved a single person -- and reportedly a board that often did not meet when faced with a mercy request.

This woman was a menace to no one. Yet no one was arguing that she be freed. Only that her life be spared.

Increasingly, we need the rest of the human family, those outside our nation, to help us see and understand ourselves, to help tell us who we are becoming as a nation, as a people.

The capital punishment debate has laid bare the injustice and capriciousness of it all. The argument have been made on these pages time and again. The meaning of Tucker's execution had more to do with the absence of mercy than the pursuit of justice. For if ever mercy were called for, it was called for in this case. If Tucker could gain no mercy, then mercy is not a part of the system. And absent mercy, the system is without humanity. If so, woe to us all.

Tucker admitted her crime. She had asked for forgiveness. Shortly before her death, she wrote Bush and the Texas parole board: "It obviously was a very, very horrible [crime] and I do take full responsibility for what happened the night of June 13, 1983. ... I also know that justice and law demand my life for the two innocent lives I brutally murdered that night.

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Tucker Death Exposes System without Mercy


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