Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998

By Kathleen A. O'Shea | Go to book overview

29
Texas: Lethal Injection

The state of Texas has given the death penalty to twelve women since 1900. On February 3, 1998, Karla Faye Tucker became the first woman to be executed in Texas since 1863 and in the United States since 1984. The last woman executed in Texas was a woman named Chipita Rodriguez who was hung for murdering a horse trader. There are seven women on death row in Texas today.

The story of Chipita Rodriguez has been told in 2 operas, a poem, several books, and a host of ghost stories. In 1985, on the 100th anniversary of her execution, the Texas legislature gave her case "symbolic redress" by unanimously voting into the record that she did not have a fair trial.

Legend has it that Chipita ran an inn of sorts for travelers in South Texas on the road between Refugio and San Patricio at a ford in the Arkansas River. Today, the location is about five miles downstream from where U.S. 77 crosses the river.

John Savage was a horse trader who sold some mustangs and mules to the Confederate Army in San Antonio and who stopped at Chipita's place in 1863. Since it was after his business with the Army, he was carrying about $600 in gold coins in his saddlebags. The next time he was seen or heard from was when his body was found stuffed in gunnysacks in the Arkansas River. He had apparently been hacked to death with an axe.

Prosecutors said the motive was robbery, although his saddlebags were found in the river with him still full of gold. Chipita was indicted for his murder along with a retarded man who worked for her named Juan Silvera. Silvera was found guilty of helping Chipita kill Savage and was sentenced to five years of hard labor. Chipita was found guilty of the murder, although she denied it, saying only "No soy culpable" (I'm not guilty). A San Patricio county historian said it was widely believed she was protecting someone else, perhaps her illegitimate son.

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