Gaile Owens supporters begin pitch to get her off Tennessee's death row
By Richard Locker
Posted April 20, 2010
NASHVILLE – Supporters of Gaile Owens – who faces execution Sept. 28
for the contract murder of her husband -- turned their hopes toward
Gov. Phil Bredesen today with a request to commute her death sentence
to life in prison or release.
Her son spoke publicly for the first time in a press conference held
by his mother’s attorneys and supporters. “My statement today is a
public plea to Gov. Bredesen to spare my mother’s life,” said Stephen
Owens, 37, of Franklin, who visited her last year for the first time
in more than 20 years.
“I looked my mother in the eyes and told her I forgive her. Mom is
extremely remorseful and regretful. She has spent the past 25 years
suffering her consequences. She has also spent the past 25 years
reforming her life.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court on Monday denied Gaile Owens’ request to
vacate her Shelby County death sentence and modify it to life in
imprison, saying that it is lacked the authority to do so and is
bound by evidentiary limitations. It scheduled her execution for 10
p.m. Sept. 28.
But the 2 1/2-page order noted that “The governor is not constrained
by the same evidentiary limitations that guide our decisions,” and
that “accordingly, our decision to decline to issue a certificate of
commutation does not foreclose or affect the governor’s exercise of
his clemency power” under the Tennessee Constitution.
Owens was convicted of hiring Sydney Porterfield to kill her husband,
Ronald Owens, who was beaten to death with a tire iron in their
Bartlett home in 1985.
The press conference at the law office of high-profile Nashville
attorney George Barrett is part of a combined legal and public
relations campaign aimed at saving Owens’ life. Nashville singer-
songwriter Marshall Chapman, and others who have befriended Owens on
weekly volunteer visits at the Tennessee Prison for Women were
present, along with Asst. Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry and
the defendant’s son. Husband and wife volunteers Gene and Pat
Williams have created a website, www.friendsofgaile.com, to help
build support for a gubernatorial commutation.
“We’re here for two reasons. One, the unfairness of the treatment of
Ms. Owens by the judicial system in this state, and two, the
unfairness of the sentence given to her,” Barrett said.
“There have been 26 women tried and convicted in Tennessee for either
killing or arranging the killing of their spouse and not a single one
of them until Gaile Owens received the death penalty. She agreed to
plead guilty prior to her trial in Memphis and was forbid from doing
so by a quirk in the judicial system because her co-defendant Mr.
Porterfield would not plead guilty. Mr. Porterfield is now on death
row claiming mental retardation since birth.
“Secondly we’re here because of proportionality of the sentence given
to her,” Barrett continued. “She’s a battered woman. She has battered
woman syndrome. That issue has never been tried before any court
despite an abundance of evidence. We think this is an ideal situation
for the governor to use his constitutional powers to grant commutation.”
Henry, who is Owens’ post conviction attorney, told reporters that
she’s been doing death penalty work for 20 years “and the Gaile Owens
case stands apart from every other case I’ve been involved in as an
attorney. Ms. Owens is the only inmate in this country that I’ve been
able to find who accepted a plea offer of life in prison and yet
ended up sentenced to death.
“That’s an extraordinary injustice in this case and one that does not
apply to any other inmate in this country, male or female.”
Barrett said he has not discussed the case directly with Bredesen but
with the governor’s legal counsel. Barrett said he expects the
governor to turn his attention to the commutation request after the
state legislature adjourns, probably next month.