'God bless the victim,' says governor as Texas executes Karla Faye Tucker

IN HER mind, Karla Faye Tucker must have already have died a hundred times. But shortly after midnight, her legal remedies exhausted and the pleadings of the international community set aside, she walked into the death chamber of Huntsville Penitentiary. At 37 minutes before one o'clock, tied down on to a trolley by six leather straps, she surrendered her body to the cold and silent flow of poisons from a needle leading into each arm.

Apparently it took eight minutes to pronounce her dead. Witnesses said she had smiled, hummed and coughed twice before she fell silent. Her eyes never closed. The final statement issued by her ended: "I love you all."

It was an ordinary death as far as executions go. Because it was by lethal injection there was no leap of flames, as occasionally happens with electrocutions, and no crack of bullets. The only signs that she had been successfully dispatched were a whoosh of air from her collapsing lungs and then the limpness of the body.

Ordinary was exactly how the authorities, from officials at the prison to the governor of Texas, George Bush, the former president's son, wanted this execution to be depicted. Never mind, they insisted, that Tucker, 38, who has never denied participating in the brutal pickaxe slaying of two Houston people in 1983, was a woman; the first woman, in fact, to be put to death by Texas since the Civil War. "God bless the victim," said Governor Bush when he announced hours before her death, that he would not grant a reprieve.

And never mind that this convict seemed to be a picture of redemption - a former teenage prostitute and drug abuser who in prison had become a born-again Christian and religious counsellor. Even Pat Robertson, the Conservative evangelist, had argued for salvation.

But those were the elements, of course, that made this case extraordinary, even in a state that leads the US in executions and in Huntsville itself where all Texan executions take place. The city is usually numb to its special distinction, but last night was different.

While one bar offered a post-Karla karaoke party, the city's main Episcopal church held an unprecedented service of prayer for Tucker at the hour of her death.

Her demise was sealed early yesterday afternoon when word came that a last-minute appeal to the US Supreme Court, protesting the clemency process in Texas, had failed.

Mob protests, page 13

Death chamber, page19