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The Ballad of Karla Faye Tucker

The Ballad of Karla Faye Tucker

By Mark Beaver
Hardcover : 9781496846624, 226 pages, August 2023
Paperback : 9781496850324, 226 pages, August 2023

A riveting true story of a Texas murder that captivated a nation and the evangelical voices who fought for Karla Faye Tucker's clemency


On a June night in 1983, twenty-three-year-old Karla Faye Tucker and her boyfriend, fueled by a sinister cocktail of illicit drugs, broke into a Houston apartment. “We were very wired,” Tucker later testified, “and we was looking for something to do.” Though they later claimed they entered the premises with no murderous intent, they ended up slaughtering two people—one a sworn enemy, the other an utter stranger. The weapon: a pickax they found in the apartment.

Fourteen years later, in early 1998, Tucker was facing lethal injection. But after her religious conversion in prison, Texas would be executing a different woman than the one who’d committed the murders. Her change was so dramatic that the most powerful and influential voices in American televangelism—Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell among them—were urging viewers to contact Texas's governor, George W. Bush, and plead for clemency. One follower was author Mark Beaver’s father, a devout Southern Baptist deacon who asked Beaver to put his fledgling literary ambitions to work by composing a letter on his behalf to Governor Bush.

Through a merger of true crime, social history, and memoir, The Ballad of Karla Faye Tucker illustrates how a seemingly distant news story triggers a national reckoning and exposes a growing divide in America’s evangelical community. It’s a tale of how one woman defies all conventions of death row inmates, and her saga serves as an unlikely but fascinating prism for exploring American culture and the limits of forgiveness and transformation. It’s also a deeply personal reflection on how a father’s request leads his son to struggle with who he was raised to be and who he imagines becoming.


"To elucidate the rise of the evangelical movement, Mark Beaver has taken a long, hard look at Pat Robertson’s campaign to save the life of convicted murderer Karla Faye Tucker, despite his previous, all-out support of the death penalty. Through deep, personal experience and careful research, The Ballad of Karla Faye Tucker takes big steps toward answering the question: why?"

- Beverly Lowry, author of Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir

"Since Karla Faye Tucker was executed in Texas a quarter-century ago, the United States has carried out more than a thousand executions, fifteen of which have been women. Yet none has commanded as much national or international attention as Tucker's. In this riveting and deeply personal book, Mark Beaver sets out to explore why. Touching on religion, politics, morality, and the sheer ineffability of why some stories rivet the nation while others are mostly ignored, Beaver has delivered a gem that succeeds in saying something new about capital punishment and something profound about our culture."

- David R. Dow, Cullen Professor at University of Houston Law Center and author of The Autobiography of an Execution

"Mark Beaver has a question about Karla Faye Tucker and the evangelists who love her: ‘Who are these people?’ His answer interweaves rueful reflections on his own ‘Christ-haunted’ youth, many an observation as wry and hilarious as Roy Blount Jr.'s, and a story propelled by plot turns as visceral and strange as any in a southern Gothic novel. But The Ballad of Karla Faye Tucker is head-shakingly real. It’s also a fascinating examination of the way American evangelism does and does not fulfill its most cherished ideals: compassion, authenticity, transformation, and, above all, redemption. In the end the questions that infuse the story are the ones we should all be asking: 'What is the nature of forgiveness?’ ‘When have we atoned for our sins?’ ‘Who can be redeemed?’ ‘How far can God’s love reach?’"

- Julia Franks, award-winning author of Over the Plain Houses and The Say So