Sunday, February 28, 2010

Battered woman's life is in Bredesen's hands

Caitlin O'Leary

February 28, 2010

Gov. Phil Bredesen holds the life of a battered
woman in his hands. The state will execute Gaile
Kirksey Owens, 57, by lethal injection unless the
governor commutes her sentence to life in prison.

Gaile is a victim of severe domestic violence who
was arrested in 1985, and later convicted, for hiring
a man to kill her abusive husband, Ronald Owens.

After exhausting her appeals, her lawyer and two
public defenders have filed a formal plea asking
Gov. Bredesen to commute her sentence to life in
Though she was diagnosed with battered woman’s
syndrome, Gaile’s jurors never heard about the
physical, emotional and sexual abuse she endured
from her husband.

Among nine comparable cases over the past 25
years: two defendants are serving life sentences and
six have received probation or early parole, while
only Gaile is facing death. Unless Gov. Bredesen
commutes Gaile’s sentence, she will be the first
woman executed by the state since 1820.

Not only were there very few, if any, resources for a
battered woman in the early ’80s, but a woman who
has suffered severe and consistent abuse is not in a
competent state of mind. Gov. Phil Bredesen should
commute Gaile Owens’ sentence to life in prison and
save the state from executing a battered woman.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gaile Owens' attorneys ask TN high court to commute death sentence

By Kate Howard

Attorneys for death row inmate Gaile Owens have asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to commute her death sentence, saying her case presents unique circumstances that warrant the rare move.

Owens, 57, was given the death penalty by a jury for soliciting the 1985 murder of her husband, Ronald Owens. She hired Sidney Porterfield, who beat Owens to death. Porterfield is also on death row.

Owens' attorneys argued in briefs filed with the Tennessee Supreme Court Friday that Owens punishment should be commuted to a life sentence because she is the only inmate who is on death row after agreeing to a plea bargain for a life sentence, and no jury ever heard the details of abuse she alleges that she endured from her husband.

The woman said she was sexually and emotionally abused by her husband, but she never took the stand because she wanted to protect her sons from the details. She also agreed to plead guilty to avoid a trial, but the prosecutor took the offer off the table after Porterfield, her co-defendant, refused to also plead guilty. The judge refused to try their cases separately.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear Owens' appeal, leaving
her to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court or the governor.

"I have, pending with the governor, a petition for commutation which I believe he will address after the Tennessee Supreme Court has acted on the attorney general's motion for an execution date,'' said Nashville attorney George Barrett in a statement. "Otherwise, we will be executing a battered woman. That would be a first for Tennessee.''

The attorneys also pointed out that Owens is the only woman in the state of Tennessee who got a death sentence for the death of her husband.

Owens is one of two women on death row in the state, and would be the first woman executed here since the early 1900s.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Attorneys urge high court to commute death sentence

NASHVILLE (AP) — Attorneys for death row inmate Gaile Owens on Friday asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to commute her sentence to life in prison. Alternately, the request asks the court to recommend Gov. Phil Bredesen commute the sentence.

The request is in response to the attorney general's motion to set an execution date, Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry said.

The attorneys said Owens, 57, was the victim of severe domestic abuse and the court never heard the evidence of that abuse.

Owens was convicted in Shelby County in 1986 of hiring Sidney Porterfield to kill her husband.