Attorneys see similarities in Owens and Winkler cases

By Janice Broach - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen commuted the sentence of a Bartlett woman sentenced to death row in 1986, saying abuse likely played a role in her relationship.

Some say one reason for Wednesday's ruling involves the recent high-profile Mary Winkler case.

Gaile Owens, on death row for more than 20 years, could be paroled next year now that Bredesen has commuted her sentence to life.

"I am grateful to Governor Phil Bredesen's decision," said Owens' son, Steven Owens.  "The power of God's forgiveness is evident.  God is at work here.  I look forward to the day my mother will be home with my family."

Owens' attorneys asked Bredesen to commute her sentence a year ago.  Owens said her husband was physically and sexually abusive to her, but that was not presented as evidence in her trial.  She was convicted of hiring Sidney Porterfield to kill her husband.

"There is at least the possibility of her having been in an abusive marriage," Bredesen said.  "The possibility, the abuse and the psychological conditions that can result from that abuse seems to me to be a factor affecting the severity of the punishment."

The case is similar to that of Mary Winkler, who shot her preacher husband, Matthew Winkler, in the back.  Her attorneys used the battered woman's syndrome in their defense.

Winkler was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and only served a few months behind bars.

Winkler's attorney Leslie Ballin said the similarities could have helped Owens.

"It certainly seemed to me, as a person involved in the Winkler case, reading and listening to the Owens situation, there are some similarities," Ballin said.  "Maybe it did have something to do with the decision."

Steve Farese, one of Winkler's attorneys, said it was hard to get her to talk about the abuse.

"It was very difficult for her to talk about anything in the negative about Matthew," said Farese, " and that's one of the hurdles we had to break down."

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