Governor commutes Gaile Owens' death sentence

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 11:52am
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Gov. Phil Bredesen announced Wednesday he is commuting the death sentence of Gaile Owens.

Owens, convicted in 1986 of accessory to the first-degree murder of her husband, was scheduled for execution in September. She would have been the first woman executed by the state in more than a century.

Calling the case "complex and emotional," the governor cited the "extraordinary" sentence rendered in the case and the fact that Owens had accepted a conditional plea agreement prior to her trial.

"Nearly all the similar cases have resulted in life-in-prison sentences," Bredesen said, pointing to the evidence of abuse by Owens' husband, Ron. 

Bredesen announced that Owens will further receive 1,000 days of sentence credit — "considerably less" than she would have earned had her original sentence been life imprisonment — and will be eligible for parole in late spring 2012.

Owens' case has generated a great deal of attention because of the unusual circumstances of her plea deal: She and Sidney Porterfield, the man she hired to kill her husband, were both offered life sentences in exchange for guilty pleas. Owens agreed. Porterfield reneged.

Later, as claims of spousal abuse emerged, further questions were raised about the fairness of Owens' capital sentence, especially in the wake of the Mary Winkler trial — in which Winkler claimed a long history of abuse prior to killing her husband. Winkler was sentenced to 67 days in a mental health facility.

Owens drew some high-profile defenders, including John Siegenthaler Sr. and noted civil rights attorney George Barrett. At least one juror who voted for the death sentence said he would have changed his mind had he known about the abuse.

"This was not going to be a decision based on who is for it and who is against it," Bredesen said.

The governor called Barrett a half-hour before his Capitol Hill press conference and left it up to the attorney to contact Owens. 

21 Comments on this post:

By: Blanketnazi2 on 7/14/10 at 10:13

possibility of parole?

By: Loretta Bridge on 7/14/10 at 10:20

Just another example of how politicians over ride what the people want. That means that what the Jury and Judge decided didn't mean a thing. This is exactly why who we vote for to hold office doesn't mean a thing. When these people get in office they do exactly what they want to do and not what we elected them to do. If they were doing what they honestly thought was best for us they would not be voting only down party lines. The vote on the health are bill told us that. All the Republicans voted against it and all the Democrats voted for it. Who voted by what was best for us.

By: budlight on 7/14/10 at 10:20

And you can bet, it will be a probability. Such good news for other convicted murderers. And bad news for the families of victims. Wonder who else he will pardon?

By: Walter Sobchak on 7/14/10 at 10:35

Way to politicize an apolitical story Loretta. Gail Owen's husband deserved to die. Period. He was no victim Budlight. Way to defend wifebeaters. Do you feel the same about rapists?

By: t.t. on 7/14/10 at 10:36

How is it bad news for the victim's family when his son has forgiven Gaile/his mom? Hmmm...
Loretta: It is not an example of anything you stated. It is an example of a politician seeing the evidence a jury and judge were unable to see and take it into consideration. You, my friend, are making it a political argument when it is in fact an argument about a PERSON, not a party or an issue or anything else. Gov. Bredesen is not trying to represent or push any agenda. He simply looked at the case and made a decision based on that.

By: JeffF on 7/14/10 at 10:39

funny how guilty until proven innocent only applies to people on trial. Gaile's husband obviously abused her because she said so. Case closed.

By: govskeptic on 7/14/10 at 10:41

This abuse, if real, should have been brought up at original trial.
Maybe the "get out of jail free" excuse wasn't in favor then as it
is now. More encouragement to use this by any female wanting to do the husband in for money, other man, or just freedom!

By: BEOWULF on 7/14/10 at 10:42

BEOWULF Soft-hearted, left leaning politicians...When will the voters learn?

By: AmyLiorate on 7/14/10 at 10:43

This will not bode well for equal rights!

Sobchak, she had more opportunity to leave than she did to kill.

No one is defending the wife beater, but Budlight mentioned his family.

Do you consider murder an equal crime with abuse? Would it be OK to abuse a convicted murderer?

By: Walter Sobchak on 7/14/10 at 10:52

There was a mountain of evidence that Owens was abused both physically and sexually. Was Owen's hospitalization for a torn placenta from being raped not brought up at the original trial??

Amy, no they are not equal crimes but murder is a fitting end for a wife beater and rapist. And if you've ever studied anything about battered woman syndrome, you wouldn't have even mentioned the leaving part.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 7/14/10 at 11:07

Walter, you're saying her commiting murder was justified?

By: Walter Sobchak on 7/14/10 at 11:22

Blanket - No I'm not saying that. Mary winkler, with zero evidence of her abuse, gets 67 days in a mental health facility and Owens, with a mountain of evidence including medical records, gets the death penalty. What wrong with this picture?

Owens plotted the murder of her husband and certainly deserved serious jail time, But not the death penalty.

Can't say I'm ever sad to hear of a rapist or wife beater meeting with grim and painful death at the hands of his victim, though. In fact, it makes me feel all warm ands fuzzy inside.

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 7/14/10 at 11:24

Thank you, Governor. As a taxpayer, I do not want my tax money used to kill another human being. I wish you would prevent the execution of all on death row.

People claim that the death penalty deters crime, but research shows that is not true.

The death penalty is really about misplaced anger and revenge. Killing the perpetrator doesn't reverse what has been done.

If it was wrong for the perpetrator to kill someone, it is just as wrong for the State of Tennessee to kill the perpetrator.

If that isn't enough reason to stop using the death penalty, then what about the hundreds of people across the country who were executed and later proven to be innocent of the crime.

By: wataboutbob on 7/14/10 at 11:28

It's true the husband was never proven to be a wife-beater but it isn't like she is getting off scott-free for the murder . . . she has served over 25 years and is only eligble for parole in two years, not necessarily granted parole.
They will decide then IF she is deserving.

By: pswindle on 7/14/10 at 11:46

Thank you Governor, justice has been done. Set this woman free, she has seen and experienced enough hell on earth.

By: marthawnelson on 7/14/10 at 11:57

Having watched, with horror, as guns were made ubiquitous in our great state of TN, and having quietly closed my eyes as we made road kill legal to cook and eat, I am at last very, very proud of our Governor who commuted Gaile Owens' sentence to life. He is a light at the end of the tunnel, and anyone who has any real sense of how he works, knows that he doesn't deal emotionally with issues --- he deals with the facts. When you understand all of the facts behind Gaile's case, the commutation was the only reasonable choice. Had nothing to do with jury decisions or the will of the people. Had everything to do with equity and justice and fairness.

Thank you, Governor Bredesen. You are my hero today.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 7/14/10 at 12:19

Walter, I agree that she doesn't deserve the death penalty but I think life without parole would be appropriate. Mary Winkler got off scott free and I find that to be deplorable.

By: budlight on 7/14/10 at 1:14

Walter Sobchak on 7/14/10 at 11:35
Way to politicize an apolitical story Loretta. Gail Owen's husband deserved to die. Period. He was no victim Budlight. Way to defend wifebeaters. Do you feel the same about rapists?

Well if what you are saying is true, this paves the way for Mel Gibson's wife/baby mama/girl friend to kill him and get away with it. After all, her 'verbal' abuse is on tape.

I'm not defending wife beaters you "a$$umptive" silly wit. I'm saying that she had her trial; she was convicted by a jury of her peers and she got the death penalty. Now a gov. has pardoned her. She will get out. Her son drank the cool aid and forgave her. Does that make it right?

And how do you feel about rapists.

I agree Blanket; life without parole. Winkler was also judged by her peers. Such is life in crimnal court.

By: Walter Sobchak on 7/14/10 at 2:38

I must admit Bud, I mis-read your post to say "familiy of the victim" not "families of the victims" . My bad, my apologies.

By: BenDover on 7/15/10 at 7:15

You'd think he would have given Workman a retrial on the prosecutor malfeasence and the new felony murder evidence; but then he yanks one out of his @$$ and lets this one go?

I'm a big Bredesen fan... and I really couldn't care less that this woman gets off with an after-the-fact story of abuse... but it does tick me off that he wet his finger and stuck it up in the air to see which way the wind was blowing both times.

It's the one thing that could make me pause before pulling a presidential election lever for the guy.

By: d4deli on 7/18/10 at 10:09

God Bless you Governor Bredesen! I am so glad to see that you did the right thing in this situation. I am relieved that this woman will not be killed. I have never understood why we kill people to show that killing people is wrong.