Gov. Bredesen Commutes Bartlett Woman's Death Penalty Sentence

Gaile Kirksey Owens
By: Allison Sossaman
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

BARTLETT - A Bartlett woman scheduled for execution in September could now be out of prison in a couple years. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has commuted Gaile Owens' death sentence to life in prison. She was convicted in 1986 for hiring someone to kill her husband.

Owens would have been the first woman Tennessee put to death in nearly 200 years. Now she's eligible parole in less than two years.

“This is a complex and emotional case," said Gov. Bredesen.

Even after 25 years, the case of Gaile Owens still stuns people in Bartlett. Neighbor Charlie Horton was there.

“Unnerving really to find somebody that's been about beat to death and walk into the middle of it,” Horton told Eyewitness News in December.

Now the woman who paid $17,000 to have her husband killed will avoid her own execution, thanks to the Governor. He wanted to explain himself.

“Mrs. Owens is guilty of first degree murder,” said Gov. Bredesen. “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."

People in Bartlett agree.

“I think it's a little extreme to do the death penalty,” said resident Brittany Jones. “But maybe like 10 more years in prison should be good."

But after being locked up for a quarter century, Owens will be up for parole soon. That shocked some neighbors who didn't want to use her name.

“I think it's crazy," she said.

Bredesen said there were two big issues that factored into his decision. Number one: Owens may have been a battered woman. Number two: her plea deal with prosecutors fell apart.

Several people involved issued statements on the decision Wednesday.

Statement From Gaile Owens’ Attorney, George Barrett:

“We are grateful to Gov. Bredesen for bringing justice to this case after more than two decades.

Gov. Bredesen righted an enormous wrong with his decision today. The governor and his legal team have been thoughtful and deliberate in their assessment of this case. Clemency is the failsafe to address injustices that the court system cannot.

Gaile’s case was an extreme instance of injustice. The system failed her at every turn, except here. Gaile and her family are deeply thankful to the governor and the 11,195 people who signed the petition in support of her.”

Statement From Gaile Owens’ son, Stephen Owens:

“My only contact with the media was in this room on April 20 of this year when I asked the governor to spare my mother’s life.

I’m grateful to Gov. Bredesen for his decision today. As I stand here today, the healing power of God’s forgiveness is evident. God is at work here.

I look forward to the day when my mother will be home with my family. On behalf of my wife, Lisa, and our sons, we are all truly thankful for this gift of life.”

District Attorney Bill Gibbons’ statement regarding the Gaile Owens case

“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.”