Grim routine played out as woman steels herself for death chamber

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The Independent Online
THE EXECUTION set for last night of Karla Faye Tucker was to be just like any other at Huntsville Penitentiary; there would be no fuss just because she was a woman. That is, according to Governor George Bush and to officials of the prison yesterday.

True and not true. There was no change to the grim - and, to the prison officers, familiar - timetable governing the last minutes of the convict's life. But, for the first time on an execution night, the city's main Episcopal church was to hold a special service at the hour of Tucker's dispatch. And a local bar, two blocks from the prison, had plans for a post-Karla karaoke party last night.

Two telephone lines were kept open to the prison all day yesterday. One was from the US Supreme Court, which last night refused to block Tucker's execution. Her lawyers rapidly launched two more appeals, one of which was immediately turned down. The second phone line fed directly to the office of Governor Bush in Austin, the state capital.

State officials said that Governor Bush had been awaiting final word from the court before deciding whether to exercise his only option to order a one-time 30-day stay. At the weekend, he received a videotaped message from Tucker pleading with him for a reprieve. He has also been inundated by some 2,400 letters asking for clemency.

Few of the letters, however, had come from Texans and political pressure to act was marginal. Tucker's case, the Governor had already stated, should "be treated like any other".

Thus, at about 4pm local time yesterday Tucker was to be taken to a 10ft by 6ft holding cell in the Huntsville execution block. There she was to eat her last meal and receive visits from a spiritual adviser and from her lawyer. Shortly before 6pm, she was to be walked to the death chamber itself and asked to lie down on the trolley so that intravenous drips could be connected to her arms.

Only once in the 55 executions he has witnessed had there been any trouble in persuading convicts to lie down, said Larry Fitzgerald, a prison spokesman. "Everyone else has actually hopped on to the gurney."

The killing of Tucker was to take roughly two minutes, with three substances being injected in quick succession - an anaesthetic to put her to sleep, a muscle relaxant to collapse her lungs and finally a lethal cocktail to stop the heart.

Unlike the firing squad or electric chair, death by injection offers little by way of spectacle; nothing, in fact, except for a sudden and usually quite noisy gushing of air from the condemned's mouth as the lungs fold in on themselves.