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by Conrad F. Goeringer
February 15, 2020

I don’t hear any religious right groups demanding mercy for Betty Lou Beets. Pat Robertson hasn't mentioned her name on his “700 Club” program or offered prayers on her behalf, or picked up the phone to call his good friend Gov. George W. Bush and plea for clemency.

Betty Lou is scheduled to be put to death on Thursday, Feb. 24 in the same prison unit in Huntsville, Texas, where just two years and 21 days before, a woman named Karla Faye Tucker was executed.

Betty Lou was sentenced to death by lethal injection for the 1983 murder of Jimmy Don Beets, a Dallas Fire Department captain. For what it’s worth, she was also charged, but never brought to trial for the 1981 murder of her fourth hubby, a man named Doyle Barker.

Both victims were shot in the head, and police found the bodies of the two men buried in the yard of Beets’ mobile home in a community appropriately titled Gun Barrel City, Texas.

The trial was a typical Texas affair, with all the ingredients of the perverse, downside of human nature which are the stuff of crime reporting in the Lone Star State. After all, Texas gave us the Cullen Davis murder trial and the exploits of Henry Lee Lucas. Mass murder, anyone? People in this state ponder homicide against a teenage girl for bumping their kid from the school cheer leading squad; but violence exists in the other 49 states, so perhaps it is unfair to single out even Betty Lou as anyone particularly special when it comes to dispatching human life.

The state has made it an altar calling, though, to ceremonially kill those convicted of such heinous crimes. Texas now leads the nation with 206 executions since 1982, including seven so far this year. Before Betty Lou Beets is strapped into a gurney and shot up with a lethal chemical cocktail, a man named Cornelius Gross will be executed for a 1987 murder. States like Illinois have put a moratorium on executions -- part of a growing nationwide scandal which reveals a shocking and unconscionable rate of mis-convictions, only now being brought to light by scientific DNA testing. Texas and its governor, George W. Bush, seem to have no such hesitations. “Dubya” must avoid being too compassionate in peddling his brand of social conservatism; and besides, what respectable politician wants to be perceived as “soft on crime,” a coddler of thugs and hoodlums, let alone murderers?

Betty Lou Beets has been dubbed the “Black Widow” for presumably killing two of her husbands, and may also have the distinction of being the second woman executed in Texas since the civil war. Karla Faye Tucker was the first. Tucker had murdered two people with a pickax in Houston in 1983 in the midst of a drug-clouded rampage. While in prison, she “found Jesus,” and became a behind-bars poster girl for born-again Christianity.

In an unusual move, Pat Robertson took up Karla Faye’s cause and pleaded for clemency. He used his “700 Club” program to profile Tucker’s newfound religiosity, and suggested that “no purpose” would be served by executing the diminutive 38 year old woman. It made national headlines. Robertson even defended his call for clemency on programs like “60 Minutes.”

Religious conservatives have not been known for their opposition to the death penalty. Most support it, often quoting Biblical injunctions which demand “an eye for an eye.” The machinery of state-sanctioned death, whether it’s the “Old Sparky” electric chair in Florida or the high-tech lethal injections used in most other states, seems to fit with the persona of a wrathful Jehovah. There’s no wimpy and forgiving Jesus in the death chamber...Those calls for mercy remain pretty much the job of liberal and mainstream religious groups, worried defense attorneys and civil libertarians. Some fundamentalists find even the ritual of lethal injection, or hanging or shooting or electrocution to be tame. Christian Reconstructionists -- those Bible toting believers who seek to “reconstruct” society on the basis of Old Testament law -- advocate death by stoning. Murder is just one of over a dozen transgressions that would lead to this bloody fate in a Christian Reconstructionist society. So would adultery, “witchcraft,” or showing disrespect to one’s parents.

In the case of Karla Faye Tucker, Pat Robertson ignited a brief wave of debate throughout the religious right. Perhaps the unconditional support, even enthusiasm, of many Christian conservatives for capital punishment was misplaced. To his credit, Robertson pleaded with his close pal, Texas Gov. George Bush to grant clemency. Bush was particularly sensitive to the Tucker case, not so much because it happened to involve a murderer-turned-born-again-Christian, but because Tucker was a female. He told reporters that the grim reaper should be an equal-opportunity dispatcher of human life, adding “I think gender is driving a lot of this issue... I believe people are wondering if the state of Texas has the capacity to enforce the law in an evenhanded way...”

“I’m waiting on a bad night,” Beets recently told a reporter. “There won’t be any beatings; there won’t be any rapes. I’ll be killed.”
Bush denied the pleas for clemency, and did not even consider a 30-day stay of execution. Relatives of Karla Faye Tucker’s victims spoke up, saying that they had no sympathy for her, and urged Bush, Robertson and everyone else to “look at the crime scene photos.”

“Let’s see how cute they think those are, because the same person who looks out from the television set with those eyes at them, is the same person who looked at my wife and (put) a pickax into her body,” declared Richard Thornton, husband of one of the victims.

For a brief period, Karla Faye Tucker became a conditional object of worship for Robertson and viewers of the “700 Club.” Perhaps her case tempered the reflexive blood cries of some religious fundamentalists and evangelicals. The pleas for clemency and mercy, though, were couched in conditional language. Karla Faye was presumably worthy of forgiveness from both god and government because she had embraced religion. It all raised the vexing question of whether religious belief should be a litmus text when administering the death penalty.

American Atheists spoke out on the Karla Faye Tucker case, declaring that if the death penalty is wrong, unjust and immoral, then it is wrong, unjust and immoral for everyone -- not just those who suddenly “find Jesus” in the privacy of their jail cells. What if Karla Faye Tucker had “found Allah” or embraced some other faith? Would Pat Robertson had rushed to her defense, intervened with his close friend George over at the state capitol building? It’s unlikely.

The prospect that Robertson and his religious right brethren would reexamine their strident support of the death penalty turned out to be illusionary. Compassion in some cases seems tied to the act of embracing sectarian religion. Karla Faye Tucker was showcased for her belief in Jesus Christ and acceptance of religious doctrines palpable to fundamentalist and evangelicals. Betty Lou Beets appears not to have linked her fate to embracing any one particular religion. She does not talk about Jesus, but instead discusses the role that domestic violence and a string of abusive husbands allegedly played in her life.

“I’m waiting on a bad night,” Beets recently told a reporter. “There won’t be any beatings; there won’t be any rapes. I’ll be killed.”

In addition to being the second woman killed in Texas since the Great Conflict, Beets -- who has five children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren -- will also be the oldest person subjected to the death penalty. She is 62 years of age. At least one child denies her claims of spousal abuse. “The only way she was a victim is because of the choices she made...”

Betty Lou Beets may be a hard sell for anti-death penalty activists. She lacks much of the cache, media appeal and religious correctness that surrounded Karla Faye Tucker. Pat Robertson wanted one kind of a deity in control of Karla Faye’s case, namely the kind and gentle Jesus of the New Testament, a Sermon on the Mount kinda’ guy. For other transgressors, though, perhaps for Betty Lou, the mean-spirited Old Testament Jehovah will have to do.

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