Monday, August 23, 2010

Tennessee Governor Commutes Woman’s Death Sentence to Life in Prison

Gaile Owens was scheduled to be the first woman executed in Tennessee since record keeping began. She was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of her husband, Ron Owens, a respected associate director of nursing at a Memphis hospital.

On Feb. 17, 1985, she and her two young boys, Brian and Stephen, found Ron in a fetal position on the living-room carpet of their two-story home outside Memphis. His skull had been crushed in with a blunt instrument.

Detectives were later tipped off that Owens had made several visits to a rough Memphis neighborhood, hoping to solicit someone to murder her husband. Among those she approached was a local mechanic, Sidney Porterfield, who after hours of interrogation confessed to the killing.

Owens had exhausted her legal appeals and was set to die by lethal injection in September when Governor Phil Bredesen commuted her sentence to life in prison.

According to Nashville Public Radio, Bredesen said he studied 33 cases of wives who hired someone to kill their husbands. As a result, the reasoning behind the commutation included the following, “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.” Another factor was that Owens accepted a plea bargain for life in prison in exchange for her guilty plea. The deal hinged on Porterfield, her co-defendant, also pleading guilty, he refused to accept the plea.

Being on death row, Owens wasn’t able to build up credit for good behavior, so beyond commuting her sentence, Governor Bredesen also gave her a thousand days of so-called “prisoner sentence reduction credits.”

With good behavior, Owens will be eligible for parole in less than two years.

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