Tennessee takes step toward executing first woman

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 9:44pm
Staff reports
Gaile K. Owens.jpg
Gaile K. Owens

With her appeals exhausted, the state filed a motion to set an execution date for Gaile K. Owens, the Memphis woman who was sentenced to death for hiring a hit man to kill her husband.

Owens was convicted in Shelby County in 1986 of accessory before the fact in the 1985 murder of her husband, Ronald Owens.

If the state carries out her execution, Owens would be the first female in Tennessee, and only the 12th in the nation to be executed.

The motion for an execution date states Owens has completed the standard three-tier appeals process by "pursu[ing] at least one unsuccessful challenge to [her] conviction and sentence through direct appeal, state post-conviction, and federal habeas corpus proceedings.”

According to court documents, Owens solicited several men, in early 1985, to kill her husband before Sidney Porterfield, the man convicted of killing her husband, agreed to commit the crime.

On Feb. 17, 1985, Ronald Owens was found in the family's den with his skull smashed from at least 21 blows from a tire iron. He had been beaten with so much force that fragments of his skull had been driven into his brain and his face had been driven into the floor.

Prior to trial, the prosecution offered both defendants a life sentence in return for a guilty plea, contingent on both of them accepting the plea. Owens accepted, but Porterfield refused, so the offer was withdrawn.

Owens has been on death row for 23 years.