Tennessee Governor Commutes Death Sentence of Gaile Owens

On July 14, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen commuted the death sentence of Gaile Owens to life in prison. Owens, who was sentenced to death in 1986 for hiring a man to kill her husband, had accepted a deal to plead guilty to the crime in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. However, the man who did the killing refused to plead guilty, and prosecutors then rescinded the deal for Owens.  Both co-defendants were sentenced to death.  In deciding to commute her sentence to life in prison, Governor Bredesen said the decision was based in part on the plea bargain that was later withdrawn and the possibility that Owens was abused by her husband. Governor Bredesen said, “Nearly all the similar cases we looked at resulted in life-in-prison sentences.” John Seigenthaler, formerly on staff at the Tennessean, said of her case, “As heinous as the crime was, the record of how Tennessee has dealt with similar cases over the last century makes it clear that her death would have been a terrible miscarriage of justice."

Owens may be eligible for parole in a few years. 

(C. Carey and C. Sisk, "Governor commutes sentence of Gaile Owens," The Tennessean, July 14, 2010).  See also Arbitrariness, Clemency, and Women and the Death Penalty.  Since the death penalty was reinstated, 248 inmates have had their death sentence commuted, including 171 commutations granted by Illinois Governor George Ryan in 2003.