Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bartlett Woman's Execution Date Set

Posted By on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 11:01 AM

Yesterday, former Bartlett resident Gaile Owens was scheduled to be executed September 28th.

Owens was involved in the 1986 murder of her husband, Ron Owens, after hiring a North Memphis man to kill him.

After police questioned her, Owens confessed to the plot and eventually agreed to a plea deal to serve life in prison.

Because her case could not be severed from that of her co-defendant, Sidney Porterfield, he was required to plead guilty for Owens' deal to be accepted.

Instead, the case went to trial, and without taking the stand in her own defense, Owens was found guilty.

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In the intervening years, evidence has come to light that she was a victim of domestic abuse, and former publisher John Seigenthaler wrote an opinion piece in The Tennessean, comparing Owens' case to that of Selma, Tennessee, battered wife Mary Winkler.

Last week, I sent a list of questions to Owens through her attorneys, including if she regretted not testifying at her trial.

"It's hard to say what you would do if given another opportunity," she wrote back. "I felt at the time my decision to not testify was the right decision and was the best I could do to protect [my family]. My concern then and continues to be to protect my sons as much as I can.

"I have always taken responsibility for putting the wheels in motion that caused the tragic death that my family has had to live with for 25 years. ... Nothing I could have said would have justified the death of my husband and the father of my sons."

In newspaper clippings from the time, the story is one of a deal that was never finalized. Owens never paid Porterfield any money, though she gave small amounts to other men contacted for the job, and told police that she had told Porterfield the deal was off.

For Porterfield's part, he told police that he was just going to check out the Owens' house the night he killed Ron Owens. After Ron Owens caught him at the house and accused him of trying to break in, Porterfield said that he initially hit the victim with a tire iron to get him to let him go. Ron Owens died of 21 blows to the skull with a blunt object.

Owens has exhausted all her appeals and her legal team has filed a formal plea asking Governor Phil Bredesen to commute her sentence to life in prison. If she were executed, she would be the first woman executed in Tennessee since Eve Martin was hanged in 1820.

UPDATE: Gaile Owens defense team held a press conference this morning, which included a statement from her son Stephens Owens:

"I am asking for your mercy," he said. "I am the face of the victim in this tragedy. … Last year, I walked into the Tennessee Prison for Women and saw my mother for the first time in more than 20 years. I looked my mother in the eyes and told her I forgive her."

Owens' legal team argues that she is the only inmate in Tennessee history to receive the death penalthy after accepting a prosecutor's offer to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. The Tennessee Supreme Court said it lacked the authority to consider the evidence presented by her attorneys, but allowed that Bredesen could commute her sentence.

“The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst. Objectively, Gaile Owens is not the worst of the worst,” said public defender Kelley J. Henry, Owens’ post-conviction attorney. “Her death sentence is grossly disproportionate to others in similar circumstances, and her case is certainly unprecedented in our state. Of the more than 25 women who have been convicted of murdering their abusive husbands since 1980, only one received the death penalty: Gaile Owens.”

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