Owens' son pleads for commutation of death sentence

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 1:48pm

Spurred by the Tennessee Supreme Court order issued Monday afternoon to set a date for Gaile Owens’ death, her 37-year-old son, Stephen Owens, of Franklin, spoke to the media for the first time ever at a press conference today at the office of George Barrett, the attorney seeking commutation of her death sentence from Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Owens declined to take any questions and read from a brief statement before promptly exiting the room. Until 2009, Owens had not seen his mother since he took the witness stand in 1986, testifying for the prosecution.

His mother was on trial for ordering the murder of his father, Ron Owens, whom she claimed had sexually abused her throughout their 13-year marriage. It was also later discovered that he was having an affair with a subordinate at the hospital he worked for in Memphis.

After a short deliberation — having heard nothing of the affair or the alleged abuse — the jury sentenced Owens to death. In fact, due to inadequate representation and a law that limits federal courts’ ability to consider all the evidence in her case, no court has ever heard the entire story.

To be sure, it was a long, difficult road that must have brought Owens to Barretts office this morning.

“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,” Owens said, looking up occasionally from his typed statement. It was uncanny how strong a resemblance he bore to old microfilm images of his father.

“The harsh reality is that both of my parents have been absent from my life," he continued. "Sparing my mother’s life can change that reality. Please do not execute my mother and rob me of this opportunity.

“Please do not leave me with the responsibility of looking my sons in the eyes and explaining that their grandmother was executed. Please do not allow a death sentence to be the legacy of my family.”

With Owens' appeals now exhausted, Bredesen can choose to commute her sentence to time served or life imprisonment. Should he decline, Owens would be the first woman executed in this state in nearly two centuries. She is also the only death row inmate to be sentenced to death after first accepting a guilty plea agreement.

According to Barrett, a commutation could fit into the framework of precedent set by Bredesen, when he commuted the sentence of Michael Joe Boyd, who was convicted of first-degree murder in a Shelby County Court, in 2007. His sentence was commuted for reasons nearly identical to those found in Owens’ case: inadequate representation and procedural limitations that prevented any court from taking a hard look at his case.

6 Comments on this post:

By: dargent7 on 4/21/10 at 4:39

How is "execution" any worse than "life" in prison? Grandkids will be filled with a sense of pride? If it were me, after 25 years in prison, I'd say, "lets be done with it already, warden".

By: yogiman on 4/21/10 at 6:14

Having worked in a federal prison (many years ago), knowing what life is like in prison, if I was sentenced for life without parole, I would rather check on out and leave this world. She, and she alone, knows why she had her husband murdered. She must live with it the rest of her life. Is she now happy, or sad?

By: openminded303 on 4/21/10 at 8:01

This woman has already seved 25 years. That is more than most men serve for the same conviction. We hear constantly about how our prisons are overcrowded and that they have to release prisoners to relieve that overcrowding. I don't think that it is fair for the facts not to come out about the reasons that she had him killed. Did she suffer the abuse that she said she did? What effect did the affair have on their marriage? These facts should have been brought out. It really was a case of her not being fairly represented. I really hope that Gov. Bredesen will commute her sentence.

By: d4deli on 4/21/10 at 8:22

Why do we kill people to show that killing is wrong?

By: pswindle on 4/21/10 at 8:46

Her life has been hell on Earth. The abuse that she suffered from her husband, the treatment from her family.and being locked up for 25 years. She has suffered enough. The govenor needs to set this woman free. Twenty five years ago, no one would help her escape from the torture that her husband inflected on her. Thank goodness, we have better laws and places to help women in need. Her son said, "I forgive you." Does he not know the abuse and treatment that his father made toward his Mother? He needs to tell her that he is sorry for her abuse.

By: SRJ on 4/21/10 at 3:23

I hope and pray that this woman is set free. I agree that she has suffered enough. The court systems were ill prepared to deal with cases like this 25 years aqo. Gov. Bredesen....please correct the injustice that was bestowed on Mrs. Owens 25 years ago.