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.

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