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Gaile Owens
June 28, 2010 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Three months from today, Gaile [Part I] Owens [Part 2] will be dead in Tennessee after 25 years on death row. The mother of two boys went to the rough side of Nashville to find a hitman to kill her abusive and cheating husband. Due to a series of events, the jury never heard of or believed the abuse. She pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but will die on September 28.

Gaile speaks out about her prison term and with her son who witnessed his father lying dead on the floor.

See also: Mary Winkler, who killed her husband in 2006 after alleged sexual abuse and was charged with manslaughter, was released, and now has custody of her children.
posted by daninnj (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
While I do not agree with the death penalty, it does seem clear that she is guilty. The concept of "justifiable homicide" is not a legal defense, and hiring a hitman is clearly premeditation.

Of course the jury didn't hear of the abuse. It was not germane to the trial; two wrongs do not make a right, and the judge would be in the right to disallow such evidence in the courtroom.
posted by explosion at 6:56 PM on June 28, 2010


How can you never hear of or believe something?
posted by wilful at 7:01 PM on June 28, 2010


The concept of "justifiable homicide" is not a legal defense...

It certainly is. In every state in the union, I believe.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:06 PM on June 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


Hmmm. So we have a serial forger and embezzler - who repeatedly stole from jobs her husband got her (forcing him to mortgage the family home to pay restitution) - trying to get so many people to kill her husband that she became a running joke in the slum.

Even if the things she uses to excuse or justify are true, they just don't wash. She hired out her husband's murder. The psychologist saw the hallmarks of abuse, "low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and fear"? I imagine getting caught arranging the murder of your husband might trigger those, too. Other than that, no evidence for abuse beyond the word of a liar who has to gain from it.

The Mary Winkler case is an atrocity, too. Time served plus two months for shooting a man in the back and leaving him to die. The evidence of his abuse? A wig and a pair of shoes. According to Wikipedia, even the killer thinks she got off to easy.
posted by codswallop at 7:08 PM on June 28, 2010


Either her lawyer was crappy and plead her out or... there were apparent facts that would've wrecked an affirmative defense (i.e. if she had sufficient autonomy to hire a hitman she likely had sufficient autonomy to take another approach to solving her problem, short of inciting another person to kill her husband).
posted by Matt Oneiros at 7:16 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The concept of "justifiable homicide" is not a legal defense

What
posted by tzikeh at 7:28 PM on June 28, 2010


The concept of "justifiable homicide" is not a legal defense

What


In the sense of "he needed to/deserved to die."
posted by explosion at 7:46 PM on June 28, 2010


Either her lawyer was crappy and plead her out

If her lawyer plead her out, she wouldn't have gotten the death penalty. The only reason to plead out is to reduce the charge and/or sentence. Considering the death penalty is pretty much as bad as penalties go, I'd say she didn't get a plea agreement.
posted by incessant at 8:29 PM on June 28, 2010


um

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justifiable_homicide
posted by radiosilents at 8:29 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Paging...someone who actually knows something about criminal law to this thread. Particularly someone who knows something about (alleged?) abused persons killing their abusers. Or hey, this case.

Anyone?

Hmmm. So we have a serial forger and embezzler - who repeatedly stole from jobs her husband got her (forcing him to mortgage the family home to pay restitution) - trying to get so many people to kill her husband that she became a running joke in the slum.

I would like to point out, though I know nothing of this woman, the fact that a person was involved in criminal activities like forging or embezzling does not mean that she was not being abused or in fear for her life.
posted by emjaybee at 8:36 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Other articles paint a less kind picture.

I'm not exactly certain how "justified homicide" fits here. She solicited several people to kill him, and he was brutally murdered, having his head smashed in with at least 21 blows from a tire iron. The quote from her regarding the reason?

Gaile Owens explained to the police that she had Ronald killed because "we've just had a bad marriage over the years, and I just felt like he had been cruel to me. There was very little physical violence." The "tragic story of abuse" seems to have been backfilled, without much substantiation.

What bothers me here is that, somehow, her gender should play a mitigating role in her sentencing. In most of the articles I've read recently about her situation, the fact that she's female repeatedly surfaces, as if it's somehow more of a tragedy to put her to death because she's a woman. It's not as if Daryl Holton was greatly wept over by influential Tennesseans concerned about the death penalty - he was a male child killer, after all, not an allegedly battered woman who spent five figures hunting down the right candidate to bash in her husband's brains with a tire iron.

It's a disturbing sign of gender inequality, to me, at least, in an already disturbing discussion.
posted by FormlessOne at 9:01 PM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I would like to point out, though I know nothing of this woman, the fact that a person was involved in criminal activities like forging or embezzling does not mean that she was not being abused or in fear for her life.

You're right, but it does mean she has a history of deception. She lies when it is in her advantage to do so.
posted by codswallop at 9:12 PM on June 28, 2010


I don't really care about the circumstances. I don't think the death penalty is justified for the ethics (giving the state the power to kill its citizens, it's wrong to take human life when there are other effective options, etc) and logistics (death penalty costs more than life in prison due to legal requirements, it's an irreversible penalty meaning innocent can be killed, death row prisoners are kept alive for a long time anyway, etc).

I'd rather she be up for life in prison. As she killed another person in cold blood, that demands, in my opinion as a layperson, a minimum sentence of at least the better part of her life (40-60 years), probably life. I'd be willing to consider it justifiable homicide if there were evidence of her approaching the police or attempting a divorce or something to save her from the situation in a more legitimate manner.

Again, IANAL. This is just how I feel.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:44 PM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Being abused is not a defense to homicide. We may have a lot of sympathy for the killer, but it is not a defense.
posted by Xoebe at 9:45 PM on June 28, 2010


The concept of "justifiable homicide" is not a legal defense...

What about "justifiable murder?"
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:06 PM on June 28, 2010


It's a disturbing sign of gender inequality, to me, at least, in an already disturbing discussion.

We're pretty much inured to the idea that large black men are thugs and scary-looking white guys are (smart) criminals by countless hours of local news and cop shows. We don't even think of convicts as people anymore, just evil flesh in orange jumpsuits. To get people angry about the death penalty, we have to broadcast it when it applies to someone who looks like your mom or mine -- it's an effective way to remind the world that every convict is also a human being with a past and present like every one of us.

Would help to have a couple well spoken, clean-cut, skinny middle aged white CEOs on death row too.
posted by miyabo at 10:08 PM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


To clear up one detail:
"Assistant District Attorney General Don Strother was dead set on prosecuting Gaile Owens and Sidney Porterfield in the same trial. Because the defendants were conjoined, the public defender's office would represent only one of them — Porterfield. It would be the first of many crippling blows to her defense.
...He offered Gaile and Porterfield a deal. In exchange for a guilty plea, they'd receive life sentences. There was one caveat: The offer was contingent on the acceptance of both defendants.
Gaile immediately accepted. But Porterfield had no intention of serving a life sentence for a crime he now claimed he didn't commit. With his refusal, Strother rescinded the offer. Gaile would now be on trial for her life."


"Or hey, this case." FTA, the following testimony from Mrs. Owens sister, Carolyn:

"When Carolyn herself got up on the stand, it was hard to believe there had ever been a blood bond between the sisters. After characterizing Gaile as a pathological liar, Carolyn said she would not have testified on her sister's behalf. And if she had, she added for emphasis, her testimony would have been damaging.

"Rather than her get out and manipulate and maneuver the rest of (her sons') lives and make their lives miserable, I would rather see her go to the chair than do that," Carolyn said. "They have suffered enough."


I'm not a lawyer but my wife is. She's of the opinion that, amongst some of her other behaviors, the months Mrs. Owens spent soliciting a hit man to kill her husband would have substantially weakened if not outright negated a battered spouse defense as to guilt.
In any case, "There were no medical records and no witnesses to back up the abuses she said she suffered in the bedroom." (And the only person who could have disputed her claims was of course dead.)

My takeaway is that Gaile Owens was guilty and poorly represented. If I were to select a case to illustrate and support a battered spouse defense this would be far from my first choice.

I am opposed to the death penalty in all instances.
posted by vapidave at 10:10 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no self-defense plea to obvious pre-meditiated murder. Nor should there be. I do not beleive in the death penalty, but the jury not hearing of the abuse is not an accident nor is it a miscarriage of justice.

Killing is wrong, which includes the murderer and the state here.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:21 PM on June 28, 2010


um

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justifiable_homicide


repeat after me, ten million times, "wikipedia is not the law, wikipedia is not the law."
posted by Ironmouth at 10:24 PM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


If she had months to choose a potential hitman and the money to pay him, she had the time and means to get away from an abusive situation without resorting to murder.
posted by sanko at 10:39 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


it's an effective way to remind the world that every convict is also a human being with a past and present like every one of us.

No, it's an effective way to reinforce the idea that a suburban, middle class white woman is more worthy of our sympathy than a "scary black man."
posted by dhammond at 10:58 PM on June 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sometimes, when one human being kills or really violates another human being, I think it's better for the killer if she or he is put to death. We who have the luxury of doing so tend to underestimate the degree to which an ability to connect and share life with other human beings is a necessity for any kind of fulfilling life. Sometimes a person does something which effectively cuts of their ability to have any spiritual or emotional connection of any meaning whatsoever with any other human being on the face of the earth. When that ability is cut off, it is no less debilitating than when the brain stem is severed from the still-functional body; and we should offer no less dignity and mercy to the most egregious murderers and rapists than we do to victims of accidents who find themselves facing a similar difficult future cut off from humanity.

I don't know how it went down in this case; I do know, however, that I can't in good conscience oppose the death penalty in all cases. It's necessary, I think, as a measure of mercy.
posted by koeselitz at 11:45 PM on June 28, 2010


Sometimes a person does something which effectively cuts of their ability to have any spiritual or emotional connection of any meaning whatsoever with any other human being on the face of the earth.

Who on earth is capable of making this assessment?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:11 AM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Once you are willing to make the intellectual leap to separate people out into human beings and subhumans, you have embarked on a dark path.
posted by anifinder at 12:18 AM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sometimes a person does something which effectively cuts of their ability to have any spiritual or emotional connection of any meaning whatsoever with any other human being on the face of the earth.

Doing something awful does not make someone unable to connect spiritually or emotionally with people. Doing something awful might be construed as (some) evidence that someone was already unable to connect spiritually or emotionally with people.

But you're making a dangerous call. You might be wrong. Or you might be right but the condition might be temporary, fixable, but you chose to throw the broken person into the dump instead of choosing to fix the problem. Or you might be right and the condition might be permanent, but you chose to kill the person instead of imprisoning the person because you believe, correctly or not, that such a person's life is no longer worth anything.

Is it undignified to spend the remainder of one's life in solitary contemplation in a bare cell? Weren't saints made that way?
posted by pracowity at 12:49 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once you are willing to make the intellectual leap to separate people out into human beings and subhumans, you have embarked on a dark path.

But you eventually get to shoot lightning out of your fingers, so maybe it's worth it.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:54 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Koeselitz: Sometimes, when one human being kills or really violates another human being, I think it's better for the killer if she or he is put to death. We who have the luxury of doing so tend to underestimate the degree to which an ability to connect and share life with other human beings is a necessity for any kind of fulfilling life. Sometimes a person does something which effectively cuts of their ability to have any spiritual or emotional connection...

W.T.F. The willingness to kill prisoners is a luxury? You presume that the state can measure and determine who is and who isn't making "spiritual" and emotional "connections" with the world? You presume that others value the same spirituality you personally value in your own life more dearly than they value, say, their own unsevered spinal chords?

Koeselitz, that stream of hubris is the most fucked up thing I've read today. It's still early though.
posted by applemeat at 4:32 AM on June 29, 2010


...And if death row prisoners value "spiritual and emotional connections with other human beings" over all else, why are so many of them convicted of murder?
posted by applemeat at 4:56 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think spiritual and emotional connections are a good measure of one's right to life, since that would imply a well socialized fanatic deserved to live more than an atheist autistic.

Given the option I'd much rather take life in prison over death. It would be a crappy place full of unfriendly people, but I'd still have pencil and paper, and if I was lucky, books to read. I'd hate for a jury of my peers to decide that my quality of life would be so poor I needed to die when I was still able bodied and fully aware.
posted by Phalene at 5:13 AM on June 29, 2010


Sometimes a person does something which effectively cuts of their ability to have any spiritual or emotional connection of any meaning whatsoever with any other human being on the face of the earth. When that ability is cut off, it is no less debilitating than when the brain stem is severed from the still-functional body; and we should offer no less dignity and mercy to the most egregious murderers and rapists than we do to victims of accidents who find themselves facing a similar difficult future cut off from humanity.

Her son is begging for her life, for the sake of their newly-repaired relationship, and her grandchildren as well. I'd say he has more of a right to make the call of whether she has "any spiritual or emotional connection of any meaning whatsoever with any other human being on the face of the earth."

Her son is ALSO her surviving victim--he was the 11 year old who found his father's body.
posted by availablelight at 5:15 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it undignified to spend the remainder of one's life in solitary contemplation in a bare cell? Weren't saints made that way?

Maybe some saints were (if you're looking to make saints, the death penalty actually has a record that's hard to beat) but surely on a voluntary basis: the element of compulsion takes us more into battery chicken territory, doesn't it?

I don't know quite what Koeselitz means about spiritual connection, but it seems a reasonable contention that in some cases locking people up to rot slowly is worse than killing them quickly.
posted by Phanx at 5:35 AM on June 29, 2010


Tennessee has 88 people on death row and has executed six people since reinstating the death penalty in 2000. It seems arbitrary and unfair to execute a particular person after decades on death row when fewer than one person is executed per year. Why should Ms. Owens be executed for arranging the murder of her husband when the murderer, Sidney Porterfield, hasn't yet been executed?

Is there a difference between Murder 1 and First Degree Murder? I thought they were the same thing.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:58 AM on June 29, 2010


but it seems a reasonable contention that in some cases locking people up to rot slowly is worse than killing them quickly.

We are all rotting slowly.

But you say that as if you're concerned about what's better for prisoners. If that's the case, then let prisoners decide what's better for them. I'm for suicide as a universal right; your life is yours to take. I'm against execution; your life is not mine to take.
posted by pracowity at 7:18 AM on June 29, 2010


Is it undignified to spend the remainder of one's life in solitary contemplation in a bare cell? Weren't saints made that way?

Actually, most saints were defined, in part, by the grisly manner of their torture and execution. St. Apollonia, the patron saint of dentistry, for example, became so because she had all of her teeth pulled out or broken during her torture and martyrdom.

This woman isn't saint material. She fully admits planning, paying for, and assisting with the brutal murder of her husband, with apparently little or no justification other than a "bad marriage."

Her son is begging for her life, for the sake of their newly-repaired relationship, and her grandchildren as well. I'd say he has more of a right to make the call of whether she has "any spiritual or emotional connection of any meaning whatsoever with any other human being on the face of the earth."

This, more than anything else, would serve, to me, as a mitigating factor. I have concerns about using the relationship as a mitigating factor, but those concerns are based on my subjective prejudices (for example, having gone through being used as a bargaining chip between divorcing parents when I was younger, I'm well aware of the manipulative capabilities of such a relationship.)

If the only, and I mean only, decision here is "does she get life imprisonment without parole, or does she get executed," then I'd lean towards life imprisonment without parole. My concern would be that a stay of execution would then be used as a springboard to lessen the sentence. Both Owens and Porterfield need to spend their lives in prison, without parole, and peacefully die behind bars for what they've done. Nothing said here should lessen that sentence.
posted by FormlessOne at 8:44 AM on June 29, 2010


Sometimes a person does something which effectively cuts of their ability to have any spiritual or emotional connection of any meaning whatsoever with any other human being on the face of the earth. When that ability is cut off, it is no less debilitating than when the brain stem is severed from the still-functional body

This is not actually, well, true, in any sense whatsoever. You might as well say that when someone counts too high, they lose their ability to truly connect with anyone ever again. Only sociopaths are incapable of empathy, and their actions are a result of being a sociopath, not the other way around. There's no rubicon of action that you cross and are unable to feel empathy ever again; people who do horrible things tend to rationalize and excuse their behavior because they need to protect themselves from their own judgement, indicating they are not sociopaths.
posted by spaltavian at 9:32 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Being abused is not a defense to homicide. We may have a lot of sympathy for the killer, but it is not a defense.

No, but self-defense is. If the abuse has been ongoing for a long time, then the psychological components involved could also be a mitigating factor. Maybe the person is still charged, but sentenced to a hospital for care instead of to jail. Or maybe in light of some truly horrific acts and the DA knows there won't be a conviction, it's better not to spend the resources on a trial when it can be spent elsewhere. Or the prosecutor and defense will work to garner a plea agreement both sides can live with.
posted by zizzle at 10:30 AM on June 29, 2010


I don't know how it went down in this case; I do know, however, that I can't in good conscience oppose the death penalty in all cases. It's necessary, I think, as a measure of mercy.

So we, as a society, should kill some people because their killing of another person puts them beyond the reach of human connection. What, then, of us?
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:13 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Update: death sentence commuted.
posted by availablelight at 11:45 AM on July 14, 2010


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