Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Owens' Case Cries Out For Mercy

Owens' Case Cries Out For Mercy

The Tennessean

APRIL 21, 2010

Our View

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued a disappointing decision Monday
when it set a Sept. 28 execution date for Gaile Owens, rejecting
attorneys' argument that her death sentence should be changed to life
in prison.

Now the ball is in Gov. Phil Bredesen's hands. While the governor has
allowed the death sentence to be carried out five times since he took
office in January 2003, Owens' case clearly merits a commutation to
life in prison.

"I'm very hopeful that the governor will look at the fact that Gaile
Owens' jury did not know domestic violence was involved in her case,
nor did it know that she had agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a
life sentence,'' said Stacy Rector, executive director of Tennesseans
for an Alternative to the Death Penalty. "She has been remorseful
since coming to prison 23 years ago, a model inmate, from everything
I've heard, and her sentence is disproportionate to similar crimes.

"It doesn't seem that anyone would be served by putting her to death.''

No, it doesn't. And while members of the state's highest court said
Monday that it cannot consider facts outside the court record, it
noted that Bredesen is not constrained by those limitations.

A request for Owens' clemency is said to already have been sent to
Bredesen. Those familiar with the case of the 57-year-old Memphis
woman who was convicted of soliciting the 1985 murder of her husband,
Ronald, say she suffered severe physical, sexual and emotional abuse
from her spouse.

At the time of her trial, Owens did not take the witness stand to
testify in her own defense because, her attorneys said, she wanted to
protect her young sons, both of whom are now grown, from details of
abuse she suffered at the hands of their father.

She did, however, agree to plead guilty to the murder charges, but
the original offer of a life sentence from prosecutors was taken back
because her co-defendant, Sidney Porterfield, also on death row,
wanted to go to trial.

If convicted, Owens would become the first woman to be put to death
by the state of Tennessee since Eve Martin was hanged for murder in

But a number of people and organizations have come to her aid, urging
Bredesen not to allow the execution.

"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,'' Nancy S. Jones, chairwoman of
the Advocacy Committee of the YWCA Board of Directors in Nashville,
wrote in this newspaper in February. "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, she wouldn't be on death row.''

Gov. Bredesen should listen to such comments as he considers Owens'
clemency appeal. He should also consider the fact that there have
been several other cases in Tennessee, most recently that of Mary
Winkler, where women killed their husbands because of alleged
domestic violence, but they are not on Tennessee's death row.

In fact, two of these women are now on parole. Owens is not asking
for parole, only that her death sentence be commuted to life in
prison. As a battered wife, she deserves at least that — not to be
put to death.

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