published Friday, October 7th, 2011

Woman who came within 2 months of being executed leaves Tennessee prison on parole

  • photo
    In a Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, Gaile Owens reacts after hearing one member of the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole voting "Yes" to release her, during her first parol hearing at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn. The Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole voted Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011 to free former death row inmate Owens. Department spokeswoman Melissa McDonald told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the board approved the release of the 58-year-old Owens, who was convicted in 1986 of hiring a man to kill her husband and sentenced to death. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen commuted her sentence to life in prison last year after attorneys claimed Owens had suffered from serious physical and sexual abuse. McDonald said Owens could be released within the next three weeks after administrative paperwork is completed. (AP Photo/The Tennessean, Shelley Mays, File)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TRAVIS LOLLER, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A woman who spent 26 years on death row and came within two months of being executed was freed Friday from a Tennessee prison.

Gaile Owens, 58, of Memphis was released Friday and greeted by a small group of supporters outside Tennessee's Prison for Women.

She was sentenced to die for hiring a stranger to kill her husband in 1985, but her death sentence was commuted to life in prison last year and she won parole last week.

Supporters had urged her release, claiming she was a battered wife who didn't use that defense because she didn't want her young sons to know about the physical and sexual abuse.

The first thing she did on leaving the prison was to hug one of those sons, Stephen Owens, who is now grown and has children of his own.

Owens issued a written statement and then immediately left the prison.

"I'm looking forward to leading a quiet, private but productive life," the statement said. She said she wanted to get to know her son and the grandchildren born while she was in prison.

Her son said he was looking forward to spending the rest of the day with his mother.

Owens' sentence was commuted to life in prison in July 2010 by former Gov. Phil Bredesen. He acknowledged the abuse claims of her supporters but gave a different reason for his decision to spare her life. Bredesen said prosecutors had agreed not to seek the death penalty if Owens pleaded guilty but then put her on trial when her co-defendant wouldn't accept the plea bargain.

At the time she was imprisoned, a life sentence meant serving 30 years and she was eligible to be released now because of good conduct.

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