Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Governor Commutes Gaile Owens' Death Penalty Sentence

Governor Commutes Gaile Owens' Death Penalty Sentence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Governor Phil Bredesen has commuted Gaile Owens' death penalty sentence. Owens was convicted in 1986 of hiring someone to kill her husband.

Bredesen made the announcement Wednesday morning at a 10:30 a.m. news conference on the first floor of the State Capitol in the Old Supreme Court Chambers. The news conference was carried live on NewsChannel 5 PLUS and

Defense attorneys had asked the court to either commute her sentence or issue a recommendation to the governor to do so. They argued her sentence was disproportionate to similar cases and that she tried to plead guilty but was not allowed to.

Stephen Owens, Gaile's son, spoke to the media for the first time about the case in April 2010.

"My statement to the public is a plea to the Governor to spare my mother's life," said Stephen.

Stephen was 12 years old when Gaile hired a stranger to kill her husband.

"Last year I saw her for the first time in 20 years. I looked her in the eyes, and told her I forgive her," said Stephen.

Gaile had expressed remorse for soliciting the murder of Ronald Owens, but the crime itself was not in question. What is in question is whether or not the entire story came out in court.

Bredesen said he decided to commute her sentence to life in prison because she had a plea deal with prosecutors but then was put on trial when her co-defendant refused to accept the bargain.

Gaile Owens' legal team planned a news conference for 2 p.m. Wednesday to address Bredesen's announcement. Stephen Owens was expected to attend.

Stay with the NewsChannel 5 Network for more information as it becomes available.

Bredesen Commutes Death Sentence of Gaile Owens

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Bredesen Commutes Death Sentence of Gaile Owens

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010, by Blake Farmer

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.

Bredesen commutes death sentence of convicted murderer Gaile Owens of Bartlett

Gaile Owens

Gaile Owens

NASHVILLE — Gov. Phil Bredesen today commuted Gaile Owens’s 1986 Shelby County death sentence to life in prison.

Her execution was scheduled for Sept. 28.

With sentence credits, she could be eligible to ask the state Board of Paroles to consider her release from prison as soon as late 2011, although there is no guarantee the board would grant release at that time.

Owens, now 57, was convicted in Shelby County Criminal Court of hiring Sidney Porterfield of Memphis to kill her husband, Ronald Owens, who was beaten to death with a tire iron at the couple’s Bartlett home in 1985.

Porterfield, now 67, was also sentenced to death, but he has a hearing set for Sept. 30 to determine if he is mentally fit under the law for execution. Today’s commutation has no direct bearing on his case.

Gaile and Ronald Owens's son, Stephen Owens, had joined with his mother's lawyers in an April press conference to publicly plead for his mother's life. He said he had been estranged from his mother for more than 20 years until he met with her in prison last summer.

"I am asking for your mercy. I am the face of the victim in this tragedy," Stephen Owens said April 20. "Last year I walked into the Tennessee Prison for Women and saw my mother for the first time in more than 20 years. I looked my mother in the eyes and told her I forgive her."

He could not be reached immediately today for reaction to the governor's action.

Bredesen cited two major considerations in his decision:

— “First, there’s at least a possibility that she was in an abusive marriage. While that in no way excuses arranging for murder, that possibility of abuse and the psychological conditions that can result from that abuse seems to me at least a factor affecting the severity of the punishment.

— “Second, Mrs. Owens was offered a plea bargain prior to her trial, of life imprisonment in exchange for her guilty plea. She accepted that plea bargain, the responsibility and the punishment, and the district attorney clearly considered that an appropriate resolution as well.”

However, the governor said, that plea bargain offer was contingent on Porterfield accepting it as well. When he refused, the offer was withdrawn by prosecutors and she went to trial with Porterfield as a co-defendant.

Bredesen also said that his office reviewed 33 similar Tennessee cases of women arranging and being charged with the murder of their husbands, some involving domestic abuse and some not. He said that only two of the cases resulted in the women being sentenced to death.

“One of them, (former governor) Lamar Alexander commuted,” the governor said. “The second one I’m commuting today.”

He said that of the 31 other cases, one of the women is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole while the other 30 are serving life sentences with parole possible.

“So nearly all the similar cases we looked at resulted in prison life in prison sentences,” he said.

Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Bill Gibbons, who was not in office when the Owens case occurred, issued a statement saying, “The governor is given the power under our state constitution to commute sentences. Governor Bredesen has decided to use that power in the case of Gaile Owens. I respect the fact that it is his decision based upon his review of the circumstances.”

Although numerous groups, including the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church, had called on the governor to spare Owens’s life, Bredesen said he spoke only with one of her lawyers, George Barrett, and purposely avoided others who sought to meet with him about the case.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate,” he said. “This is not to be decided on who’s for it and who’s against it or on political pressure.”

Her attorneys filed the commutation request a year ago, citing among other issues sexual and physical abuse they said Owens suffered at the hands of her husband. Her attorneys cited a “battered spouse syndrome” defense that her trial attorneys did not pursue, but which has been used successfully in similar cases since then.

Bredesen said he met with Barrett in February. He said he turned his focus to the case in late June, after a busy winter and spring in which his work was centered on his legislative agenda. He said he made his decision now because there was no reason to force Owens — by all accounts, a model prisoner who helps other young women in prison — wait for an answer while her scheduled execution date neared.

Bredesen’s commutation order also grants Owens 1,000 days of sentence credits, which he said is less than she could have earned had the plea bargain she agreed to been accepted. With those credits alone, she would be eligible for parole consideration in spring 2012, but credits that she may begin earning starting today could push parole eligibility up to the end of 2011.

“What I’ve done here is go back and to the extent possible now, honor the concept of that plea bargain,” the governor said. “Had she received a life sentence, she would have been eligible to earn sentence credits in various ways. As a prisoner sentenced to death, this was, of course, not possible. To make some adjustment for that fact, and to provide some clarity, the commutation also grants her 1,000 days of sentence credit and the right to participate in the normal sentence credit process in the future.

“This credit is considerably less than she would likely have earned had the life sentence been in effect the last 25 years.”

In summation, Bredesen said, “Mrs. Owens is guilty of first-degree murder. She has accepted that responsibility. Nearly all the similar cases in Tennessee over the years have resulted in life sentences, and based on these considerations, I consider this a case in which the death penalty is inappropriate and a sentence of life in prison is appropriate.”

Gaile Owens Sentenced Commuted

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gaile Owens Sentenced Commuted

Posted by Mary Cashiola on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 12:01 PM

Gaile Owens

  • Gaile Owens
Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen has commuted the death sentence of former Bartlett housewife Gaile Owens to life in prison.

Owens was convicted in 1986 of hiring a Memphis man to kill her husband.

Owens' defense team argued the fact that Owens agreed to a plea bargain that was later rescinded —Â because the co-defendant in her case did not agree — and that Owens was a victim of domestic violence.

Gov. Commutes Death Row Inmate's Sentence

Gov. Commutes Death Row Inmate's Sentence
Gaile Owens Has Been On Death Row Since 1986

POSTED: 10:45 am CDT July 14, 2010
UPDATED: 12:35 pm CDT July 14, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Gov. Phil Bredesen on Wednesday commuted the death sentence of a woman convicted of paying a man to kill her husband, meaning she could be released as soon as 2012.

Related: Noon Report

Gaile Owens, 57, has been on death row since 1986. Bredesen said he decided to commute her sentence to life in prison because she had a plea deal with prosecutors but then was put on trial when her co-defendant refused to accept the bargain.

The state had set a Sept. 28 execution date. Under the terms of the arrangement Bredesen announced Wednesday, she'll be eligible for parole in 2012.

It has been nearly 200 years since Tennessee executed a woman. One other woman, Christa Gail Pike, is in prison with a death sentence but she is continuing to appeal.

"I'm very pleased with the governor's thoughtful decision in regards to Gaile Owens. He gave a great deal of deliberation to this based on the evidence and circumstances and, I believe, arrived at an appropriate decision," said Owens' attorney George Barrett.

Owens was convicted in Shelby County in 1986 of hiring Sidney Porterfield to kill her husband, Ron Owens. The victim was beaten to death with a tire iron at the suburban Memphis home the couple shared with their two sons. Witnesses testified that Owens had solicited several men over a period of a few months to kill her husband.

She initially told police that she had a bad marriage but that there was little physical violence. Shortly thereafter, she told attorneys a different story: claiming her husband had repeatedly raped and denigrated her. He cheated on her and threatened to take the children when she asked for a divorce, according to defense claims.

"Ms. Owens is guilty of first-degree murder; she accepted responsibility for that," Bredesen said. "Life in prison is appropriate."

Owens agreed to a conditional guilty plea before her trial, but that agreement was rescinded after her co-defendant refused to also plead guilty, Bredesen said.

"This case also raises unresolved allegations of domestic violence and emotional abuse that, while inclusive, raise the possibility that the defendant suffered from the form of post-traumatic stress disorder then known as battered woman syndrome," the commutation statement says.

Defense attorneys claimed Owens' death sentence was out of line with others convicted of similar crimes. Attorneys found records of at least 20 women convicted in Tennessee of first-degree murder for either killing their husbands, or hiring or conspiring with someone else to have their husbands killed. None of those women were sentenced to death. Many other women were convicted of lesser charges.

It is the second time Bredesen has commuted a death sentence. In 2007, Bredesen commuted the sentence of Michael Joe Boyd to life without the possibility of parole, citing "grossly inadequate legal representation."

Good news! Death sentence commuted in Gaile Owens case

Good news! Death sentence commuted in Gaile Owens case
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen today commuted the death sentence of Gaile Owens who had been scheduled for execution on September 28. She was sentenced to death for soliciting the murder of her husband, but her case garnered widespread publicity because of severe abuse she had endured at his hands.

Governor Bredesen cited similar cases as his reason for granting clemency, stating:
As heinous as the crime was, the record of how Tennessee has dealt with similar cases over the last century makes it clear that her death would have been a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Gaile Owens could be eligible for parole as early as 2012.