I spent my 27th birthday covering the execution of pickax murderess Karla Faye Tucker.
The Death Row Woman Who Divided a Nation Her crime was sadistic. The jury that sentenced her to death heard a tape of Tucker bragging that she had orgasms as she and an accomplice hacked their two victims to death. Later, Tucker had a jailhouse conversion to Christianity that was so compelling even death penalty advocates like Rev. Pat Robertson pleaded with then Texas Governor George W. Bush to commute her sentence.
Leading up to the execution, I did emotional interviews with people from all sides of this case.
One Tucker juror cried as she told me she stood by her death sentence decision but that Tucker’s execution would be the second worst day of her life, second only to a loved one’s death.
Even the Victim’s Family Disagreed
I did an exclusive interview with the victim’s grown children who had never spoken publicly. They wanted to see Tucker die. During the interview, their father became so upset reliving his wife’s murder he had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance.
But even this victim’s family was split. The brother of this very same victim actually forgave Karla Faye and fought to have her life spared.
On February 3, 1998, that divided family witnessed Karla Faye Tucker (pictured left) die after a lethal injection. As I turned 27, I reported her death to an equally split nation.
Documentary Airs Tonight Two documentary filmmakers will introduce us to such a person in their film, “At the Death House Door.” The documentary airs Thursday night on the Independent Film Channel.
Pickett, a Presbyterian minister, began his career as a prison preacher who believed in capital punishment because of his grandfather’s own murder and a prison siege that killed two people from his own congregation, but he never told anyone what he thought.
“If I said I was for capital punishment, the inmates would’ve never talked to me," Pickett says. "If I said I was against it, I’d been fired so I kept my mouth shut.”
But after fifteen years of watching executions, he decided capital punishment was not just, moral, or a deterrent. Now, thirteen years after his retirement, Pickett tells the story of the ninety-five executions he witnessed, a story he did not seek to tell.
The Death Tapes
After each execution, Pickett recorded his thoughts on a cassette tape. He says he needed to talk and the only thing in his house was a tape recorder. He never intended for the tapes to be used, but when he casually mentioned them to some filmmakers who were doing research, they persuaded him to share those tapes. Their focus of their film immediately changed to the post-execution thoughts of this pivotal man.
On these tapes, Pickett describes each execution in both large and small detail. He says what it is like to pray with the killers, what the condemned said to him, and what each man did as the lethal cocktail flowed into his veins. Pickett watched the execution of Ronald O'Bryan (pictured above). He was put to death for poisoning his son's Halloween candy with cyanide.
Preacher Accuses Texas Officials of Covering Up Botched Execution
Pickett describes how something had gone wrong with one of the executions. He says he watched the inmate die a slow, agonizing death that took eleven minutes.
"That’s not, to me, either Christian or American or Texan,” Pickett told a group. He says that Texas officials intentionally lie when they claim there has never been an execution with complications.
The film explores the case of Carlos De Luna, a man Pickett and many others believe was innocent. The documentary covers the facts of the case and shakes the confidence of citizens who think only the guilty make it to the death chamber.
I’ll be tuning in tonight for Pickett’s story. In April, the United States Supreme Court upheld Kentucky’s method of capital punishment by lethal injection. That decision means more inmates will likely be put to death in the coming months.
Whatever side you are on, there is something to learn from a humble man of God who watched ninety-five convicted killers take their last breath.
"At the Death House Door" Premieres Thursday, May 29 Independent Film Channel 9:00 p.m. EDT