Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hasn't Death Row Inmate Gaile Owens Suffered Enough?

Politics | 03/16/2010 12:00 am

Hasn't Death Row Inmate Gaile Owens Suffered Enough?

By Andrew Belonsky

Gaile Owens

Yes, the 57-year-old maintains that she called off the "hit," and Henry explains that Owens "accepts her responsibility for setting the wheels in motion that led to her husband’s death and knows that her actions made her guilty of accessory before the fact to first-degree murder." Porterfield, meanwhile, has employed a different tactic: He’s claiming to be mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for execution.

One of the most important aspects of the Owens case revolves around her abuse — abuse of which the jury never heard. Though courts today regularly take "battered woman syndrome" into account, the condition hadn’t yet been codified – or, at least, recognized – back in the 1980s. And it’s that argument that should be of utmost importance to the Tennessee Supreme Court. People, regardless of gender, can only take so much abuse before they snap. Clearly Owens had reached a tipping point. Whether she deserves more or less blame than Porterfield remains a matter of debate, but this woman, now a grandmother, certainly deserves more than a death suitable for the nation’s most egregious criminals.

Rather than subjecting her children to the horrors she had endured, Owens ... pleaded guilty straightaway, hoping to receive life imprisonment.

The Court hasn’t indicated which way it will rule, but as Owens’s story gains more attention – and online support – we’re hoping the justices give her what she deserves: a commuted sentence that allows her more time with her family and the friends she’s made in prison.

If you want to learn more about Owens’s case, head over to the Friends of Gaile website, where you can find information on which authorities to contact to fight for a commutation of Owens’s death sentence.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lion & the Lamb Gaile Owens, law & order, & Honest Abe by George Hartz

LION AND THE LAMB: Gaile Owens, law and order, and Honest AbeBy George Hartz / Chronicle contributor
Gaile Owens is a lady. More than that, she is a sensitive lady. Learning of her husband's adultery, she was devastated. Her husband, rather than being repentant of his unfaithful conduct, instead felt trapped in his marriage and became abusive. In 1986, this sensitive lady reacted in a way she has been regretting ever since. She hired a man to kill her husband. She pleaded guilty to the murder, believing that she would be sentenced to life in prison. Instead, the verdict was the death penalty.

Unfortunately, Gaile Owens lives in Tennessee, where successful prosecutors move up the ranks and some become judges and some even become "Law and Order" governors.

Law and order is always a successful theme for candidates seeking election, but it gives one cause to wonder. Fair laws are something to which we can aspire, but keeping order? Well, the Nazis were very good at that. Rogue nations take all sorts of violent measures to keep order. Eventually all such measures fail. Is there any order in Iran today? What we really need is law and justice.

But back to the case of Gaile Owens: except for the fact that she has confessed her guilt and shown remorse, her case is not unlike several other persons on death row who have lost the battle for life.

First, there is inadequate defense. Like all executions before her, the candidates were poor and could not afford a competent attorney. And then there are zealous prosecutors who have honed their skills. They know how to control the jury from beginning to end. They know how to mute eye witnesses and bring pressure on other witnesses to reverse testimony in exchange for immunity. In many cases, the reversed testimony comes from an incarcerated inmate with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Most of all, they are experts on technicalities. They know how to keep evidence from the eyes and ears of the jury.

Before Gail was accused, she was abused. She was the victim of an unfaithful husband. But none of this part of her story was allowed to be viewed by the jury.

Yes, Gaile Owens is a victim of a broken justice system based on retaliation and capital punishment. Unlike other civilized nations who have abandoned the death penalty, we see no contradiction in making our state an instrument of retribution.

Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?

The qualities of mercy, forgiveness and rehabilitation have been drained out of our justice system.

I often think of the great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. Today, Republicans take pride in his historical presence, as indeed they should. There was a forgiveness factor in this man. He was moved by appeals for mercy, and with a magnimous spirit along with his executive power, he saved thousands of lives. It is a fact that of all sentences of death imposed on Union soldiers for sleeping at post, not one was approved by Lincoln.

What is less known is that Lincoln issued 331clemency warrants to individuals convicted in civil courts. It seems sad that standard bearers of his party today cannot embrace this part of his nature.

Gaile Owens may well be an example of the true qualities of the people of Tennessee. The state has requested that the state Supreme Court set the date for the execution of Gaile Owens. We wait and see.

Thinktrain by Rob Robinson/Gaile Owens doesn't deserve to die

If it’s OK for Mary Winkler to live as a free citizen and have custody of her kids, it isn’t OK for Gaile Owens to be executed by the state.
Owens is the only inmate in Tennessee prison history to face execution after accepting a prosecutor’s offer to plead guilty with a life sentence.
Though there is little doubt that Owens was severely abused by her husband, the jurors who decided her fate never knew about it. Owens never testified and hasn’t sought publicity for her plight, out of respect for her children. She even declined to appear on Oprah when approached by the program. Owens is remorseful for her crime and from the outset pled guilty. She signed a plea agreement to serve a life sentence, which the prosecution refused to accept when her co-defendant rejected the same offer.
In my opinion, this isn’t someone who deserves to die for her crimes, but my point of view isn’t the one that matters at this point. Governor Bredesen, please do the just and equitable thing and let Owens live.

Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry will discuss the case of Gaile K. Owens

The Case of Gaile Owens, a talk by Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry

Thursday, March 18, 2010
12:00pm - 1:00pm
Renaissance Room, Vanderbilt Law School, 131 21st Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203

Please consider coming to hear Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry discuss Gaile's case at Vanderbilt Law School on March 18.

Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry will discuss the case of Gaile K. Owens, one of two women on Tennessee's Death Row.

Owens was arrested in 1985 and later convicted for hiring a man to kill her husband, Ronald Owens. Her attorney, George Barrett '57, and two federal public defenders, including Henry, have filed a formal plea asking Gov. Phil Bredesen to commute her sentence to life in prison.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Woman On Death Row Asks For Mercy

Gaile Owens, Who Hired Husband's Killer, Says She Was Battered Wife

POSTED: 7:00 pm CST February 16, 2010
UPDATED: 8:45 am CST February 17, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The first woman on Tennessee's death row is asking the state Supreme Court for mercy because she says she suffered from "battered-wife syndrome."

However, prosecutors said Gaile Owens prevented her own lawyers from making that argument at her trial.

The state has asked the court to set a date for Owens' execution after she hired someone to kill her husband in 1986. Owens wants the sentence reduced to life in prison.

In a response filed by the state Tuesday, prosecutors said Owens refused to undergo the mental evaluation her defense requested to prove a battered wife defense.

She also refused to testify in either the guilt phase or the penalty phase.

I desperately want to fight for my mother's life

From Stephen`s blog :

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gaile Owens

I desperately want to fight for my mother's life. Our relationship is alive and I can only plea to others not to take this away from me now.

I am uncertain of the path that God is leading me on but I can tell you that He is showing up every day and I can see and feel His presence in the people and events unfolding around me. I know the only way I ever would have believed that my mother had changed and reformed her life was to see the evidence face to face. God has revealed this proof and continues to reveal His work to me every time I see her. It is so difficult for me to describe in words. It is real. It is powerful. It is amazing. It is love. It is peace. It is undeniable.

Deeper Look Shows Even More Cases of Unequal Justice

Deeper Look Shows Even More Cases of Unequal Justice

That's the title of John Seigenthaler's followup article in the Sunday edition of the Tennessean. LINK

A news story published here Dec. 20 under my byline reported critically on the striking differences in sentences that state judges and juries gave three Tennessee women convicted of killing their abusive husbands.

Further research makes it clear that the article failed to deal in adequate depth with the question of whether penalties handed down in such cases by Tennessee courts reflect what Judge Richard S. Arnold of the U.S. Court of Appeals called "the reality and perception of equal justice."

A review of the disparate levels of punishment the courts dispensed in these and six similar cases over the last quarter-century makes the point:

• Two of the nine cases resulted in the killers being granted full probation — one after a new trial and the other after 67 days in a mental health facility.

• One of the cases resulted in a life sentence being commuted to 18 months and probation.

• Another resulted in a prison term of 15 years and early parole.

• Four of the cases resulted in life sentences. Two of these women were freed on parole; the others are entitled to parole hearings.

• Only one woman was sentenced to death. Gaile Owens' court appeals were exhausted last month, and the Tennessee Supreme Court soon will set the date for her death.

In all nine cases, the murders were brutal. In four of them, wives arranged for hit men to kill their husbands. In all but one of the cases, defense lawyers, either during trial or on appeal, presented evidence that the wives had endured physical or emotional abuse from their spouses. In at least half the cases, defense lawyers sought to prove that the killers suffered from battered woman syndrome — a condition the courts have defined as "a female who is the victim of consistent, severe domestic violence."

David Raybin, a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor — who convicted the killer in one of the nine cases and successfully defended the killer in another — believes that the pattern of inconsistent sentencing may have resulted from the failure of some defense lawyers to effectively present battered woman syndrome testimony. Court records seem to document that.

Seigenthaler's original article, "The uneven hand of justice in TN murders," was noted here last month.

Thoughts on justice - Gaile Owens

Thoughts on justice

John Seigenthaler :,unequal%20justice_Tennessean_Jan.%2010,%202010.pdf

Support system makes difference for victims

Support system makes difference for victims

By Mary Jones • February 28, 2010

Tennessee Voices

One day, out of the blue, I was grabbed from behind and choked by my husband. In the seconds that it took to realize what he was doing to me, I also thought this was my last breath. What will happen to my children? Will anybody find my body? Is this real?

Domestic violence showed its ugly face in my marriage long before I recognized it as such. I dismissed my husband's rude, selfish and demeaning behavior as just having a bad day. This behavior became a way of life in our relationship. I never understood why or what I had done to make him behave this way. Even in asking, I was made to feel stupid for not realizing that it was me who made him do the things he did. I could never live up to his standards.

My husband was an abuser of drugs and alcohol and did not waste any time after the marriage vows to show his true colors. His emotional and verbal abuse stripped me of my own existence. My young children watched and heard us. When I looked into my children's eyes and saw that they were looking for answers from me, I knew that I had to take action. It was not until about six months after one particularly dangerous episode that I found the last bit of self-esteem that I still held onto and left him.

We left when he was not home. We ran with the mere clothes on our backs, no money in our pockets and my heart in my throat. I had one purpose: to get my children to safety.

Thankfully, I had options

I have a lot in common with Gaile Owens. We are both mothers. We are both victims of domestic violence. We both endured horrors that no one should have to endure. Like Gaile, I, too, feared involving my family in my situation. Yet, unfortunately for Gaile, that is where the similarities end.

When I made up my mind to leave my husband, I called the YWCA's domestic violence crisis line. It was the voice on the other end that ultimately saved my life and the lives of my children.

In 1985 in Memphis, Gaile Owens did not know that help was available because the services were limited, and even those were not well-publicized. The first services in the Memphis area for abused women were offered in 1979 in the form of a crisis line — listed in the phone book under "Wife Abuse" — that operated only four hours a day. Today, the YWCA Nashville's crisis line is available around the clock.

In 1985 in Memphis, Gaile felt she had nowhere to turn. Had a support system for domestic violence victims been well-established, perhaps Gaile today would not be sitting on death row for killing her husband.

Thanks to the YWCA, I am living a violence-free life. I now have hope. I keep my children safe. Together, we are getting stronger every day.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please get help. Call the YWCA Crisis & Information Line at 615-242-1199 or 800- 334-4628. It is free and confidential, 24 hours a day.

Battered woman's syndrome is real. Domestic violence is real. The fear for your life is real. And Gaile Owens is proof of how real it can be.

Mary Jones of Nashville is a domestic violence survivor and a volunteer with the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

Does battered woman deserve execution?

Does battered woman deserve execution?

By Nancy S. Jones • February 28, 2010

Tennessee Voices

I don't know Gaile Owens, but I feel like I do. At the YWCA we work with some women like Gaile who suffer from trauma as severe as battered woman syndrome, a serious mental disorder that mental health professionals and courts have recognized in women who are the victims of consistent, severe domestic violence.

Out of respect for Gaile, who is now awaiting an execution date for arranging the 1984 murder of her abusive husband, I am not going to share the horrid details of how she suffered. She never testified in her own defense in order to protect her children from those details, and I will honor her silence.

Suffice it to say that Gaile has been diagnosed with battered woman syndrome, according to court documents and a recent thorough assessment by Jan Vogelsang, a licensed clinical social worker with almost 30 years of experience in this area. YWCA domestic violence staff describe the symptoms of battered woman syndrome as a high level of anxiety that interrupts normal life, repeated reliving of painful abusive episodes, inability to develop and maintain healthy relationships, and an acute sense of isolation. Does this disorder excuse her criminal conduct? Absolutely not.

Help not available back then

The YWCA supports thousands of Middle Tennessee victims of domestic violence each year, and we never advocate violence as an appropriate response to an abusive relationship. Instead, we provide counseling, shelter, support groups, resources — all things that were unavailable to Gaile in Memphis 26 years ago, when many cities were in the early stages of recognizing and addressing domestic violence.

I firmly believe that if Gaile had had access to resources like these in 1984, she wouldn't be on death row. We couldn't be there to help her then, but we can help her now.

Because of our work in domestic violence in Middle Tennessee, members of the YWCA board of directors have been moved to speak out on behalf of Gaile. In doing so, we take no position on the appropriateness of the death penalty as a punishment for criminal conduct. We do question, however, whether Gaile's case rises to the level of a capital crime, given the outcome of comparable cases that resulted in probation or early parole.

Gaile has never denied her guilt. She isn't asking for a pardon. Her attorneys are asking for commutation of her sentence to life in prison, which was the original deal she arranged with the prosecutor 25 years ago. Unless the Tennessee Supreme Court or Gov. Phil Bredesen provides relief from the death sentence, we will be executing a battered woman.

Nancy S. Jones is chairwoman, Advocacy Committee, YWCA Board of Directors in Nashville.

Tennessee Voices - Gaile Owens

Support system makes difference for victims

Does battered woman deserve execution?

Does battered woman deserve execution?