Confirmed victory

Wonderful news! Gaile Owens will not be executed and she will even be eligible for parole in 2012. Thank you to everyone who supported did this! Now lets get her out on parole.Governor commutes sentence of Gaile Owens | | The Tennesseanwww.tennessean.comUPDATED: 11:25pm: Gov. Phil Bredesen said Wednesday that he had commuted the death sentence of Gaile W. Owens to life in prison.


Dear friends:

The state of Tennessee is scheduled to execute Gaile Owens on September 28th, unless we can convince Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to commute her death sentence to life in prison. 

Gaile Owens is in prison for hiring a man to kill her abusive husband in 1985.  She was offered a plea to life in prison -- and she accepted that plea -- but the D.A. rescinded their offer when her co-defendant refused to accept the plea.   The attorneys working on her case believe that no other prisoner on death row in the U.S. has received a death sentence after accepting the offer of a guilty plea in exchange for alife sentence.

Below and attached is more information about Ms. Owens' case (my apologies in advance if the formatting of the following message is weird).  The organization where I work, the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, has been working with Ms. Owens’ attorneys since last summer to block her execution. 

Gaile Owens needs more support – and needs it now.   At a minimum, please sign the petition AND forward this message to all of your coworkers, colleagues, friends, and family.  Time is short.  We need to act NOW.  THANKS IN ADVANCE.

We believe that letters sent via US mail will be the most persuasive Please considersending a letter to the Governor and to his legal counsel.  His address is: 

The Honorable Phil Bredesen 
Governor’s Office
Tennessee State Capitol 
Nashville, TN 37243-0001

If you can’t send a letter via US mail, please send a message to the Governor l via e-mail.  His e-mail addresses are: .

Consider calling the Governor’s office, writing a letter to the editor, submitting an editorial, and/or joining as a Friend of Gaile Owens on Facebook.  For more information about these ideas, see the Friends of Gaile website under the “Learn More” tab (about halfway down the page). 

Why Gaile Owens should have her sentence commuted:

There are many compelling reasons to commute Gaile Owens’ sentence.  We need your help to convince Governor Bredesen that commuting her sentence is the correct – and just – action for him to take.

Ms. Owens is the only prisoner in Tennessee to receive a death sentence after accepting a prosecutor’s offer of a plea agreement for life in prison.  In 1985, after years of sexual abuse and severe humiliation by her husband, Ms. Owens hired a man to kill him.  The prosecutor’s office offered that Ms. Owens could plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.  This offer was made with the approval of her husband’s family.  Remorseful and concerned about putting her children through the trauma and hardship of a trial, she accepted the plea.  But, when Ms. Owens’ codefendant – the man she hired to kill her husband – refused to take the plea, the prosecutors withdrew the offer.  We believe Gaile Owens is the only prisoner in the entire United States in this unimaginable and untenable situation.  No other prisoner has received a death sentence after accepting the offer of a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence.

Ms. Owens’ death sentence is clearly excessive. A recent review of 9 cases from Tennessee that involve women who have killed or hired someone to kill their partners, shows that 6 have received probation or early parole and that two receivedlife sentenceswith eligibility for parole. Only Ms. Owens has received death. As you may recall,Mary Winkler, another woman from Tennessee, who shot and killed her minister husband, ended up serving a total of 7monthsand subsequently was able to get full custody of her children. Ms. Owens, a remorseful woman with a stellar prison record, should not be put to death.

Ms. Owens received a sentence of death by a jury that never heard critical information about the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse she endured throughout her life, including from her husband.   Ms Owens was subjected to physical and sexual violence from a young age.  Her husband was but one of the perpetrators of violence against her.  His unspeakable acts of sexual violence and humiliation were part of the story of Gaile Owens’ life, the story the jury never heard.  When her trial attorneys asked for funds to hire an expert witness with experience in abuse and trauma to evaluate Ms. Owens, they were denied.  She was instead given a competency/insanity evaluation by a local mental health clinic.  Unprepared and ill-equipped, her attorneys proceeded to try her case without the essential evidence of her history of abuse.

As if these failings weren’t damaging enough, it was discovered that the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense.  To this date, at least one juror has come forward saying that if she had had the information about Ms. Owens’ experiences of abuse, she would not have voted in favor of execution.  In other words, the proper presentation of this evidence could have saved Gaile Owens’ life.

The legal system clearly failed Ms. Owens.At each step of the legal process, Ms. Owens’ efforts to find justice were thwarted. Gaile Owens death sentence should be commuted. 

For additional information about Ms. Owens’ case, visit

The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women (NCDBW) and the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (TCADSV) have been working together to support Ms. Owens for many months.  Last summer, the National Clearinghouse submitted an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court in support of Ms. Owens’ Petition for Certiorari (asking the Supreme Court to hear Ms. Owens’ case).  The Supreme Court refused to hear her case.  In January, NCDBW and TCADSV submitted an amicus to theTennessee Supreme Court seeking a certificate of commutation, which was denied at the end of April.  We turn to you now – our colleagues, coworkers, friends and family – to urge you to act to save Gaile Owens’ life.

Letter to
Governor Phil Bredesen
Dear Governor Bredesen,
I write to ask that you offer mercy to Gaile Owens.
You well know that, after the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to hear the case
of the 57 year old Gaile Owens, who has spent the last 25 years in prison for
setting her husband's murder in motion in 1985, only you stand in the way
between the rest of her life spent in jail, which Ms. Owens is asking for, and
her execution by lethal injection on September 28th. If Gaile Owens is killed,
she will be the first women to be executed by your state since Eve Martin was
hanged in 1820.
You know, too, that the facts involving Ms. Owens' battering from day one of
her marriage were never brought to the court's attention and that her husband
repeatedly and falsely described himself as one who served as a twice wounded
Vietnam medic. This lie was part of his published obituary. You no doubt
recall Mary Winkler, another Tennessee citizen, who shot and killed her
minister husband. Ms. Winkler served seven months in prison and subsequently
was able to receive full custody of her children.
Throughout her marriage, Ms. Owens was forced to endure violent sexual
degradation that began on her wedding night and never ceased, including
repeating certain acts until she vomited, and having foreign objects, such as
a wine bottle and a marijuana pipe, inserted in her vagina and tear her
rectum. Her husband accused her of not using proper precaution to avoid
pregnancy, and just before the birth of their second son, she was hospitalized
for a torn placenta due to sadistic sex. All of this occurred before the
concept of marital rape was part of our judicial body of laws.
Governor Bredesen, I know that psychopathic killers can be male and female.
But Gaile Owens is not a psychopath. For those with this character disorder
show no guilt or remorse. On the contrary, Ms. Owens was frank about her
guilt, almost from the very start. Soon after her arrest she explained, "I'm
sorry. I wish I'd never done it....I felt like I had all that I could take
over the years...just the mental abuse I felt I had been through."
Gaile Owens' 37 year old son, Stephen, describes his mother as "extremely
remorseful and regretful," describing her prison years as "25 years reforming
her life." Stephen Owens has asked you to spare his mother's life so that she
is able to spend her remaining years continuing to attend her Bible study
classes, counsel inmates and juggle a multitude of responsibilities in a
setting where she has a stellar record and is respected by staff and inmates
Gaile Owens had neither money nor connections. Her attorneys were denied
funding to hire an expert witness experienced in abuse and trauma. Still, at
the time of her trial it was well documented that she suffered from battered
women's syndrome, a state hallmarked by depression, anxiety, fear, and
tattered self-esteem. Women who endure emotional, physical, and sexual abuse
live in a constant state of humiliation and shame, and in time cannot make
rational decisions or offer sound judgments. Rather than clearly see the
impact of the abuse they have endured, and the pathology of the abuser, they
view themselves as "less than," lacking, and impaired.
It was in this state of mind that that Gaile Owens hired Sidney Potterfield, a
complete stranger she met on the streets of Memphis, to kill her husband.
Not wanting her young sons to hear what her husband had done to her, or appear
to them as being so inadequate a lover that their father turned to another
woman, Ms. Owens would not allow her abuse to be mentioned. For this reason
she has consistently refused requests to tell her full story to the press.
Further, exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense. Jurors did not
hear of sexually explicit love letters written to her husband, who was the
associate director of nursing at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, by a
woman on his staff. Though the prosecutor stated that the letters did not
exist, they had been returned to Ron Owens' mistress. Police, however, had
recorded notes from the correspondence, and these notes were used in the
unsuccessful court appeal. At least one juror from the initial trial has come
forward to say that had she had known of Ms. Owens' life, she would not have
voted for the death penalty.
Gaile Owens is the only prisoner in Tennessee, and most likely the entire
United States, to receive a death sentence after accepting the offer of a
guilty plea in exchange for a life in prison. The offer was withdrawn when the
co-defendant, Sidney Potterfield, refused to accept the plea. Further, a
recent review of nine cases similar to this one, where in desperation a woman
either killed or hired someone to kill a partner, shows that six have received
early parole or probation and that two received life sentences with the
eligibility for parole.

ACTION COMMITTEE FOR WOMEN IN PRISON started this petition with a single signature, and won with 5,774 supporters. Start a petition to change something you care about.