John Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of The Tennessean and founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, had a wonderful article in Sunday’s Tennessean entitled “The Uneven Hand of Justice” about the Gaile Owens case in Tennessee.
Seigenthaler highlights the disparity in Gaile’s sentence compared with similar crimes in Tennessee, particularly the case of Mary Winkler who served 67 days in a mental health facility after murdering her abusive husband in 2006. Of all the cases mentioned in the article, Owens’ was the only defendant who was willing to plead guilty and take responsibility for her decision. Yet, she is the only one who faces execution.
In this case, the judicial process broke down over and over again with the jury never hearing about the abuse Gaile suffered, with her trial attorneys spending only 2 hours preparing for her trial, and with the prosecutor withholding crucial evidence substantiating Gaile’s claims of her husband’s infidelity.
Regardless of whether one supports or opposes the death penalty, and given the facts in this case, Gaile Owens should not be executed. She has already served 23 years on death row and has taken responsibility for her tragic decision. How can Tennessee execute Gaile Owens when others in similar situations have received lesser sentences? The outcome of this case is no longer about Gaile Owens’ bad decision but about our decision as a state. What will we choose? Let us choose accountability without the death penalty.
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