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Tennessee woman released after 25 years on death row

Gaile Owens is seen in an undated prison photo
Gaile Owens is seen in an undated prison photo

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - A Tennessee woman who sat on death row for a quarter-century for the killing of her husband was released from custody on Friday.

Gaile Owens, 58, was greeted by a small group of friends and family when she was released from the Tennessee Prison for Women.

"Her release plan was approved and she will be reporting regularly to a parole officer here in Nashville," said Melissa McDonald, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole, which last week approved the release.

Owens had been scheduled to die by lethal injection September 28, 2010, but that sentence was commuted by then Governor Phil Bredesen, which made parole a possibility.

Bredesen said at the time that he spared Owens after a review showed she had admitted her guilt and that other people who committed similar crimes generally drew lesser sentences. Bredesen also noted that she had accepted a conditional plea agreement for life imprisonment prior to her original trial.

Bredesen said that while Owens' claims that she had been physically abused by her husband were "inconclusive," she may have been suffering from "battered woman syndrome," which was another factor in his decision.

Parole was recommended by the single member of the board who was at her first parole hearing September 7, 2011. That recommendation was forwarded to other members of the board, who considered the case and recommended 4-2 to parole her.

During her parole hearing, Owens testified about sexual assaults and physical abuse she suffered from her husband that she said led her in 1984 to contract a man to kill him. She said that during her court trial in 1986 she hadn't talked about abuse because she felt it would harm her children.

A year to the day after she was scheduled to be the first woman executed in Tennessee in more than a century, the board announced that she would be given her freedom.

Owens had been sentenced to die after being found guilty in 1986 of arranging to have her husband killed.

Evidence showed she had solicited several men in poor Memphis neighborhoods with offers of up to $10,000 to kill her husband Ron Owens.

Sidney Porterfield, the man Owens hired, used a tire iron to beat her husband in the couple's suburban Memphis home while Owens and their two sons were away.

Porterfield, now 68, also was sentenced to death and has been on death row since, according to Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction. Owens was convicted in 1986 of being an accessory to first-degree murder.

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)

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