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.

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