Board to release former Tennessee death row inmate Gaile Owens

Gaile Owens (Source: Tennessean)
Gaile Owens (Source: Tennessean)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee will free a woman who once sat on the state's death row for hiring a man to kill her husband.

The state Board of Probation and Parole voted Wednesday to release 58-year-old Gaile Owens, whose death sentence was commuted last year by then Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Owens was convicted in 1986 of hiring a man to kill her husband, Ron. He was beaten to death with a tire iron at their suburban Memphis home.

She initially told police that she had a bad marriage but that there was little physical violence. Shortly thereafter, she told attorneys a different story: claiming her husband had repeatedly raped and denigrated her, cheated on her and threatened to take their two children when she asked for a divorce.

Bredesen said he commuted the sentence because Owens once had a plea deal to avoid the death penalty that fell through when her co-defendant refused to plead guilty.

Parole board spokeswoman Melissa McDonald told The Associated Press Wednesday that Owens could be released within the next three weeks after paperwork is completed.

"Once she's released she will began to report to a probation and parole officer on a regular basis," McDonald said.

Defense attorneys claimed Owens' death sentence was out of line with others convicted of similar crimes. Attorneys found records of at least 20 women convicted in Tennessee of first-degree murder for either killing their husbands, or hiring or conspiring with someone else to have their husbands killed. None of those women were sentenced to death. Many other women were convicted of lesser charges.

Before her death sentence was commuted last July, Owens' execution had been set for that September. It has been nearly 200 years since Tennessee executed a woman. One other woman, Christa Gail Pike, is in prison with a death sentence but she is continuing to appeal.

Owens' son Stephen couldn't be reached for comment on Wednesday, but he told reporters at the time of her commutation that he was able to reconcile with her after realizing he could "forgive my mother and still honor and love my dad at the same time."

"I just wanted to be able to say that our family's legacy didn't end with the execution of my mother, and me having to sit down with my kids one day and explain that," he said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)