This undated file photo provided by McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations shows death row inmate Gaile Owens at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn. Gov. Phil Bredesen on Wednesday, July 14, 2010 commuted the death sentence of Owens, who was convicted of paying a man to kill her husband, meaning she could be released as soon as 2012. Owens, 58, has been on death row since 1986.(AP Photo/McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations, File)
NASHVILLE — Gov. Phil Bredesen this morning commuted the death sentence of Gaile Owens to life in prison.
“This is a complex and emotional case and I’ve considered it carefully,” the governor told reporters.
Ms. Owens was convicted by a Shelby County jury in 1986 of being an accessory before the fact to first-degree murder in the murder-for-hire plot of her husband, Roger Owens. He was beaten to death in 1985.
Gov. Bredesen said there were two issues that were important to him. The first is “there’s at least the possibility” of Ms. Owens having been in an “abusive marriage.”
Secondly, Gov. Bredesen said, prosecutors had originally offered Ms. Owens a plea bargain deal, which she had accepted.
“The district attorney clearly considered it an appropriate resolution as well,” Gov. Bredesen said.
But the governor said the plea bargain was conditioned on a plea by her co-conspirator, who rejected it. Ms. Owens was then tried and convicted.
Gov. Bredesen said a review of state records show 33 instances of women involved in first degree murder. In only two cases — one of them involving Ms. Owens — were there death sentences.
Under the commutation, Ms. Owens could come up for consideration of parole in the spring of 2012.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...