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April 23, 2010

Comdemned battered female murderer raising interesting issues in Tennessee

This notable new local editorial, which is headlined "Bredesen holds complex case; Gaile Owens poses a challenge: Abuse and a co-defendant figure into the fate of a Bartlett woman who hired her husband's killer," spotlights a capital case and debate worth watching in Tennessee. Here are the details:

Gaile Owens, facing trial for the murder of her husband, and co-defendant Sydney Porterfield were offered a deal by a Memphis prosecutor in January 1986: Plead guilty and you won't be executed.

But they both had to agree to it or the bargain was off, and Porterfield refused. Consequently they both went to trial, and Owens may become the first woman to be executed in Tennessee since 1820. She could also be the first woman in America to be executed for a crime committed under the influence of battered woman's syndrome.

Those are among the issues that should factor into the decision before Gov. Phil Bredesen -- whether or not to allow her execution to go forward.  Of course, Bredesen must also consider the brutality of the crime to which Owens, 57, has confessed -- hiring Porterfield to kill her husband.

Ronald Owens was beaten to death with a tire iron in the couple's Bartlett home, a crime that has surely earned Owens a life sentence without parole at least.

Bredesen's decision will stir up passions on both sides, as well as the inevitable comparisons with Mary Winkler, who served less than a year for the 2006 slaying of her husband, Rev. Matthew Winkler of Selmer.

Like Winkler, Owens exhibited symptoms of battered woman's syndrome, a condition described by Memphis psychologist Dr. Lynn Zager, who interviewed her, as "characterized by dominance and control exerted by the husband over the wife, leading to increased entrapment of the wife, or what is called 'learned helplessness.'"...

Owens has maintained that she didn't testify at her trial and never raised the mistreatment defense in order to protect two young sons from the truth about their father's behavior.

Her initial agreement to plead guilty to the offense in exchange for a life sentence supports the claim.  Her co-defendant's refusal to accept the deal turned out to be a mistake -- Porterfield is on death row, as well -- over which Owens had no control.

Nevertheless, Owens has exhausted her legal challenges to the death penalty, and Tennessee has set a Sept. 28 execution date.

With the stroke of a pen, Bredesen can change that. Whatever he does, it will be greeted by second guessing among people who should be grateful their hands don't hold the pen.

So, dear readers, how about giving Gov. Phil Bredesen some help with this tough decision.  Should he grant clemency to Owens?  I am already prepared to predict that he will, but I want to hear comments about whether folks think he should.

April 23, 2010 at 10:57 AM | Permalink


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"But they both had to agree to it or the bargain was off, and Porterfield refused."

What is the reason for this? Why didn't the prosecutor accept her plea and have her testify against Porterfield?

Posted by: . | Apr 23, 2010 11:43:41 AM

Absolutely not. First of all, she could have offered proof of this at trial--where the prosecution would have had the opportunity to rebut. Second, and more importantly, she importuned someone else to commit this heinous crime. She was willing to use someone to get her way and risk that person's freedom and life. Nice. That puts her outside of the category of "battered woman".

Owens should be executed, and I hope that Bredesen has the moral courage to let the execution go forward.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 23, 2010 11:49:28 AM

She could afford to offer $17,000 to an assassin to off her husband, but she couldn't afford a $200 bus ticket out of town??

My, my.

"Owens has maintained that she didn't testify at her trial and never raised the mistreatment defense in order to protect two young sons from the truth about their father's behavior."

Your life is on the line but you sit on your best (or maybe only) defense to spare your children's ears (as if they don't already know your on trial for murdering their father). Does anyone here believe that?

P.S. The "mistreatment" was not that she was getting beaten up. The "mistreatment" was that her husband was stepping out on her, repeatedly. She had him beaten to death out of revenge and jealousy, not out of any form of self-defense.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 23, 2010 12:09:40 PM

You know what always strikes me as funny--people will believe whatever comes out of the piehole of a defense attorney about a third party, yet scream bloody murder about supposed innocence. The irony is usually lost on them.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 23, 2010 12:46:01 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong here but her case consists solely of her own claims, which she has only made two decades after her trial. She has no medical reports, no police reports and no eye witnesses. She did not make these claims when her life was at stake. She is contradicted by a doctor who she claims treated her injury and her victim can not defend himself. Basically, we should just blindly take the word of a convicted embezzler and murderer.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Apr 23, 2010 7:50:19 PM

This made up feminist defense has no scientific validity. Biased feminist lawyers and their male running dogs are just promoting their hate filled agenda by this false defense. They are after the productive male and out to destroy the American family. Any judge allowing it is immunizing the feminist murderer, as the KKK lynching was immunized by the lawyer for 100 years. There should be zero tolerance for feminism, a hate movement. There is good moral and intellectual justification for a self-help remedy against any lawyer and judge using this defense. There is no legal recourse because the feminist lawyer and its male running dogs hold all positions of review. Why? To destroy the American family, a competing source of authority to government, a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 24, 2010 7:43:40 AM

I am just a regular person, no law degree or legal ease - just a working stiff who would like to see our legal system improve.

This is what I see. Mary Winkler gets less than a year - Gaile Owens gets death. Mary Winkler goes to church, Gaile Owens does not. Mary Winkler claims abuse at the hands of her husband - so does Gaile Owens. Regardless of any past transgressions either of them had, the crime they were sentenced for involved the death of their respective husbands. Mary Winkler kills hers - Gaile Ownes hired someone to hill hers. Am I missing something?
Why wasn't Mary Winkler sentenced to death also?
I've read all the comments above (pie hole, feminist bashers, no medical reports, etc.). Fairness in sentencing is the main point here - and Gaile Owens did not get a fair sentence at all. I hope Governer Bredesen does the right thing- since the Judge didn't have the nads to. Sometimes wrong is just wrong and those with the power need to right it.

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