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For the second time as governor, Phil Bredesen has commuted the death sentence of a convicted murderer – this time a woman.
Gaile Owens would have been the first woman executed since record keeping began in Tennessee. She had exhausted her legal appeals and was set to die by lethal injection in September. Governor Bredesen says he made two considerations. For one, it appears she was abused by her husband before she hired someone to kill him in 1985.
“While that in no way excuses arranging for murder, that possibility of abuse and the psychological conditions that can result from that abuse seems me at least a factor effecting the severity of the punishment.”
Also, Owens accepted a plea bargain for life in prison in exchange for her guilty plea. But that deal hinged on the man she hired to do the job also pleading guilty, which he refused to do.
With good behavior, Owens could be eligible for parole in less than two years.
Owens has already served nearly 25 years, and under a life sentence she would have been eligible parole after 30. Being on death row, she wasn’t able to build up credit for good behavior, so beyond commuting her sentence, Governor Bredesen is giving her a thousand days of so-called “prisoner sentence reduction credits.”
“She has lost the opportunity for a great deal of sentence credits she might have earned, but we’re trying to adjust for that a little bit.”
While allowing five executions to be carried out, this is the second time Bredesen has commuted a death sentence. He says he studied 33 cases of wives hiring someone to kill their husbands. Only one other had been sentenced to death, and her sentence was commuted by then-governor Lamar Alexander.