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Mercy, Clemency, and the Case of Karla Faye Tucker

Mary Sigler

Arizona State University - College of Law


Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 4, 2007

In 1998, Karla Faye Tucker became the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War. Tucker's case was extraordinary both because of the extreme brutality of her crime and the dramatic religious conversion she experienced on death row. Her rehabilitation led to calls for mercy and clemency from an unlikely collection of supporters, including conservative religious figures not otherwise opposed to the death penalty. Tucker's supporters argued that she had become a "new person" who was no longer deserving of the ultimate punishment; that she was no longer eligible for the death penalty because she did not pose a danger to society; and that her execution represented a waste of a life that could still make a positive contribution to society. When then-Governor Bush denied Tucker clemency, her supporters concluded that he lacked mercy. Without taking a position on whether Tucker's life should have been taken or spared, this essay explores the grounds for mercy and clemency raised. The author argues that, on the most plausible account of American criminal law, Tucker's post-offense rehabilitation has little bearing on the punishment she deserves. Finally, the author examines the institution of executive clemency, suggesting that its exercise as an expression of traditional mercy as an act of princely grace is problematic in a liberal democratic society. Although a merciful disposition is an appropriate posture for any public official, the executive clemency power is a poor proxy for the virtue of mercy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 32

Keywords: Mercy, clemency, death penalty

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Date posted: May 17, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Sigler, Mary, Mercy, Clemency, and the Case of Karla Faye Tucker (2007). Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 4, 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1405458

Contact Information

Mary Sigler (Contact Author)
Arizona State University - College of Law ( email )
Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
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