America asks: should this woman die?

In a case that is dividing America, a woman is due to be executed tomorrow for a murder she committed almost 15 years ago. The campaign for a reprieve has brought together feminists, liberals and the Christian right. And the final decision on her fate may rest with George Bush, governor of Texas and son of the former president.

There is little to say about the crime itself. In June 1983, Karla Faye Tucker and her boyfriend broke into a Houston home and slaughtered the two people inside. They did it with a pick-axe. Tucker, then 23, declared that with each swing of the axe she experienced a surge of sexual pleasure.

Tomorrow, she is scheduled to be transported to Huntsville prison near Houston, where at 6pm she will be connected to the IV drip that will feed into her veins the poisons that will dispatch her from this life.

Tucker, 38, has never denied her guilt (her boyfriend died from natural causes on death row). But few cases created as much national controversy. Even in Texas, which outstrips other states in its dedication to capital punishment, opinion is convulsed.

Those campaigning for Tucker to be spared include not only human rights activists such as Bianca Jagger, but also Pat Robertson, the right- wing evangelist.

Barring last-minute intervention by the Supreme Court itself in Washington, the only hope for Tucker rests in Austin, the Texas state capital. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles will decide today whether to recommend commutation of her sentence from death to life imprisonment. Thereafter Governor Bush will have to decide.

Mr Bush will have to consider the factors that seem to have combined in her favour - namely that she is female, attractive, telegenic and a Christian. Tucker herself has asked that her gender not be taken into account. Even so, it seems America - and Texas especially - is simply squeamish about executing a woman.

Then there is her alleged born-again embrace of Christianity. In prison, Tucker has become a counsellor to other inmates on Christian belief and redemption. And in a television interview to be broadcast tomorrow, Tucker asks her supporters only one thing: not to question God, if indeed she is sent to die.

Leading article, page 14

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