Her journey from drug-addicted prostitute to born-again Christian drew support from death penalty opponents across the globe. But it couldn't keep the 38-year-old pickax killer of two from becoming the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War, and the first in the nation since 1984.
As weeping mixed with gleeful singing among several hundred demonstrators outside the Texas death house, Ms. Tucker was placed on a gurney, her long dark hair stark against the white sheets. Leather belts were pulled snug across her body, legs and arms.
Ms. Tucker turned her head to the witnesses and declared her love for her family and husband. She then apologized to her victims' families.
"I hope God will give you peace with this," she said.
"I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. I love all of you very much," she said. "I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you."
Richard Thornton, whose wife was one of those killed by Ms. Tucker in Houston in 1983, spoke to his wife as he witnessed the execution: "Here she comes, baby doll. She's all yours. The world's a better place."
As the chemicals entered her body, Ms. Tucker gasped twice and let out a long wheeze before lapsing into unconsciousness. She was declared dead at 6:45 p.m.
Thornton said later that he couldn't accept Ms. Tucker's apology.
"My religion says to forgive. Turn a cheek. I still cannot do it," he said. "I don't believe her conversion. I don't believe her Christianity.
"(She) has been sent to the place that we're all going to go sometime, someplace my wife already is. She will deal with Karla Faye Tucker. I promise you, it won't be pretty."
The Board of Pardons and Parole had refused to commute Ms. Tucker's sentence to life in prison and Gov. George W. Bush refused to grant a 30-day reprieve. Her death came less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected her final appeal.
People on both sides of the case, and Ms. Tucker herself, said gender should have no bearing on her punishment.
But the oddity of a woman being executed _ there were only 49 women among 3,365 death row inmates nationwide as of Jan. 1 _ prompted hundreds of reporters and photographers to descend on Huntsville, 80 miles north of Houston, where executions are commonplace.
Nationally, since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume, 431 men and now two women have been executed; 145 have died in Texas, by far the most active death penalty state.
The last execution of a woman in Texas was in 1863, when Chipita Rodriguez was hanged for the ax murder of a horse trader during a robbery. The nation's last execution of a woman was in 1984, when born-again Christian Velma Barfield was put to death in North Carolina for lacing her boyfriend's food with rat poison.
And that was the last until Tuesday night, which ended a case that grabbed extraordinary attention. Ms. Tucker had portrayed herself as someone who had been rehabilitated and wanted a life sentence so she could help others behind bars. Pleas for mercy came from Pope John Paul II and TV evangelist Pat Robertson, who emphasized her religious conversion.
"This thing is vengeance," said Robertson, normally a death penalty supporter. "It makes no sense. This is not the same woman who committed those crimes."
Bush has let 59 condemned men go to their deaths without commuting or delaying a death sentence since taking office three years ago. The parole board has refused all 77 requests from condemned inmates since 1993.
"I have concluded judgment about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to a higher authority," Bush said.
Ms. Tucker and a companion, Daniel Garrett, were convicted of killing Jerry Lynn Dean, 27, and Deborah Thornton, 32, on June 13, 1983.
Garrett beat Dean with a hammer, and Ms. Tucker used a 15-pound pickax to stop Dean from making a gurgling sound. Then Ms. Tucker attacked Mrs. Thornton, who had been hiding under a blanket. Ms. Tucker told friends she experienced a sexual thrill each time she swung the ax.
Garrett was sentenced to death, but died in prison in 1993 of liver disease.
While Thornton had vigorously pushed for the execution, Ron Carlson, Mrs. Thornton's brother, was opposed.
"She was a perfect example of how rehabilitation in the penal system is supposed to work. And what did they do?" he asked. "They executed her."