The Case of Gaile Owens: Unequal Justice

On January 15, 1986, Gaile Owens was sentenced to death for the murder of her husband, Ron Owens, by a jury that did not have all the facts. The jury was never told about the abuse Gaile suffered at the hands of her husband nor did they know about her willingness to plead guilty for a sentence of life in prison. A review of similar Tennessee cases featured recently in the Tennessean demonstrates the disproportionate nature of Gaile’s death sentence. Over the past 25 years, six of the women in these cases have since received full probation or early parole and two others are serving life sentences but are entitled to parole hearings. Only Gaile Owens faces a death sentence after 23 years on death row.

Gaile suffered abuse as a child and ultimately married a man who was also abusive. Her husband not only abused Gaile sexually but also had affairs with other women that he flaunted. Despite this treatment, Gaile did her best to be a good wife and mother. She finally came to a breaking point when she discovered her husband with another woman with whom he had had an extended affair. His response to her was to curse Gaile, throw her against a car, and tell her to stay out of his business.

Gaile takes full responsibility for her decision to hire Sidney Porterfield to kill her husband. She understands how much this decision hurt her children and Ron Owens’ friends and family. Because of her remorse and hope to spare everyone involved the pain of a trial, Gaile decided to accept a deal offered by the District Attorney to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. However, her co-defendant would not accept a deal. Because the District Attorney wanted them to plead together, the deal was not honored, and she was forced to go to trial.

Because Gaile’s attorneys believed that she was pleading guilty in exchange for a life sentence, they did not prepare, recording only two hours of sentencing investigation—two hours to defend her life. Each of her attorneys believed the other was responsible for the sentencing hearing so neither prepared for it either, spending no time collecting records respecting Gaile’s background and character.

Her attorneys never mentioned the abuse she had suffered even though she told them about it. And, when one of her lawyers argued that Gaile’s allegations of abuse entitled her to some kind of expert inquiry, the trial court refused. With no expert inquiry, no investigation, no document gathering, and no real legal representation, Gaile Owens was found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury who did not know who she was, what she had endured, or why she did what she did.

The legal system never worked for Gaile. Not only were her own trial lawyers unprepared, but she learned during post-conviction proceedings that the prosecution had withheld critical information about Ron Owens’ affairs. The state possessed love letters between Ron Owens and his mistress but withheld these letters from Gaile, leaving her unaware of documented evidence supporting her allegations of Ron’s sexual perversions and her suspicions of his unfaithfulness.

Gaile Owens takes full responsibility for her actions and is deeply remorseful for the pain she has caused. She is seeking what she has always sought—a life sentence. Gaile does not want media attention nor does she want her children and family to be dragged through the media circus that would accompany her execution. Gaile is an exemplary inmate at the Tennessee Prison for Women where she works as a clerk.

Please write to Governor Bredesen and ask him to commute Gaile Owens’ death sentence to life. Letters should be written to Governor Phil Bredesen and sent to:

Governor’s Office
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001

Call Governor Bredesen at 615-741-2001 or

Also, check out

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One Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    Please go to and the read her story and sign the petition to commute her sentence from death to life.Please go to and read the testimony of Gaile's son and his journey of forgiveness and reconiliation.

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