Executed in Texas

Karla Faye's Cleveland Connection

Ron Kuntz has covered nine Olympic Games, and even more World Series' and Super Bowls, during his 45 years as one of the nation's most respected photo journalists.

Kuntz has worked heavyweight championship fights and World Cup Soccer games.  His news judgment, creativity and feel for the dramatic has earned him several major awards.

Yet Kuntz, like most photographers, remained relatively anonymous.

Until several weeks ago.

Until his close friend, Karla Faye Tucker, approached her February 3 execution date.

"When you'd visit Karla, you'd know there had been a change in her life," Kuntz of North Olmsted said a week after Tucker's execution by lethal injection in a Huntsville, Texas prison. "From the very first time I visited her, I thought, "This girl is special." She had a lovely spirit about her.

"Since that time, and the other visits I had with her, after spending some time with her, I'd leave that prison feeling uplifted. My last visit with her was in December of 1997, just a month or so before she was executed."

Kuntz met Tucker in 1986 on the death row section of the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas. Kuntz estimates that he has visited 600 to 700 prisons during the last 25 years as a member of the "Bill Glass Weekend of Champions" prison ministry. Glass is a former all-pro defensive end for the Cleveland Browns.
Tucker was a drug addict and a prostitute when she and an accomplice murdered a man and woman in 1983. Tucker received the death penalty. Shortly afterwards, she accepted Jesus Christ as her Personal Lord and Savior.

As Tucker's execution date neared, she and her faith became a major story for the international news media. She was the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War and the second in the United States since the resumption of the death penalty in 1976.

"Karla said, 'What I did deserves the death penalty. I should die as a result of what I did, " Kuntz says. "But she said that the Lord had forgiven her of that crime and she said she was ready to be with Him.

"She had an execution date in November of 1993 and I received a letter from her that October, a month prior to the scheduled execution. She wrote, "What a great birthday present I?ll have when I see my Lord face to face.? She had a date, November 19 (but got a reprieve), and her birthday was November 18.

"Since that time, she said time and time again that she was going to see the Lord face to face, and that was the last thing she uttered when she was on that table."

Indeed, in Tucker's last moments, she said, "I am going to be face to face with Jesus now."

Kuntz was interviewed by several news publications and television and radio stations as the execution date drew near.

"I had TV stations and radio stations calling me all day long that Tuesday, and I really hadn't got to be alone," he recalls. "But the next morning, when everything was sort of quieted down, I just sort of envisioned myself...because I've been to the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas, where the execution took place...I sort of envisioned myself being there when Karla came in. But she made a good difference with so many people."

Tucker spoke of her faith in Jesus Christ during her numerous media interviews. Kuntz recalls a recent conversation with Tucker's husband, Dana Brown. Brown, a prison ministry worker, and Tucker were married in 1995.

"I called Dana after Karla's interview on "Larry King Live," several weeks ago,"  Kuntz says. "Dana said that after the program was over, Karla continued to witness to Larry King. Larry told Karla, "I'm still waiting for the Messiah."

"But Karla looked at him and said, "You don't have to wait any longer, He, Jesus, is right here with us. "That's how Karla was. She never wavered. In all of those 14 years on death row, she would never waver. She would always come out strong for the Lord."

Tucker, who was 38, wrote a letter to Kuntz only days before her death. She wrote of her faith in Jesus. She showed her concern for others, even as her execution date neared. Kuntz had taken a casual picture of Tucker and the three other women with her on death row. Somehow, a Texas television station had obtained a copy of the picture and used it without Kuntz's permission.

"She was more concerned about that, and she wrote that she was going to make sure that nobody used the picture unless they would get permission from me,"  Kuntz says. "And here, she's got a date coming up for an execution and she's concerned about my feelings."

Kuntz's friendship with Tucker is only one of many he has made with prison inmates since 1973, when Glass called Kuntz to ask him if he'd like to join the prison ministry. Glass, who retired from football in 1969, had occasionally spoke at Kuntz's church while he was playing for the Browns. Glass's ministry includes athletes, ex-convicts and other believers in Jesus Christ.
Kuntz worked for United Press International from 1953 to 1991, interrupted only from 1957 to 1959 by a stint in the Army, where he was a photographer for the Army Pictorial Center. The friendly and outgoing Kuntz has worked for Reuters News Pictures since 1992. His work also includes coverage of the Indians, Cavaliers and Browns.
The 63-year-old Kuntz was born in Cleveland and lives in North Olmsted. He and his wife, Nancy, have four sons and a daughter. Their youngest son, Josh, has Down's Syndrome. An inmate once told Ron that he had a son with Down's Syndrome.

"I reached into my wallet as I said, "You know, this is no accident that I'm here," and I showed him a picture of Josh," Kuntz remembers. "I said, ?Nick, have you ever placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?"  He said, "No," and I asked, "Would you like to?"  He said, "Yes." We prayed. God used that to bring an inmate to come to know the Lord - a result of Josh coming into my life."

God has often used Kuntz to help bring an inmate to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Kuntz himself has known Jesus Christ as his Personal Lord and Savior for 44 years.

1a.JPG (8319 bytes)"I can always remember the scripture (II Cor. 5:17), "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new," Kuntz says. "That's what happened to me on Jan. 17, 1954."