Only woman ever released from Tenn.’s Death Row breaks silence

Only woman ever released from Tenn.'s Death Row breaks silence (Image 1)

The only woman ever released from Tennessee's death row is breaking her silence about being set free from prison and reconciling with the son of the husband she had murdered.

“I am nervous and have not had one of these on before,” Gaile Owens told News 2 as she attached a wireless microphone for a wide-ranging interview, along with her son Stephen. “It's still a journey, a transition. I had to learn to be a mother to an adult son, and he had to learn to have a mother around that he had not had for all those years.”

Stephen Owens echoed those sentiments about the mother he last saw at age 12 before their reconciliation nearly a quarter century later.

“It's been a day by day process,” said Stephen, who teaches and coaches at a Nashville private school. “She's had to deal to the adjustment of being a mother to a 40-year-old man, and I have had to deal with having a mother in my life after so many years.”

Owens made national headlines in the 2010 when then Governor Phil Bredesen commuted her sentence to life in prison just months before she was scheduled for execution.

It meant she would be eligible for parole which was later granted leading to her release on October 7, 2011.

The now 61-year-old was convicted in 1986 of hiring a hit man who killed her husband Ron in their suburban Memphis home, but the clemency petition raised the issue that Owens was battered wife who endured abuse at the hands of her spouse.

Now living in Nashville and working two jobs, Owens is speaking out as part of a book that has been written by Stephen called “Set Free.”

“It's not about the crime, it's about where we are today,” said Owens as she sat next to the son who did not speak to her for 23 years.  “[The book] is a way to hopefully help other people learn there is reconciliation, there is hope and there is freedom in being able to forgive.”

Stephen said he started helping with his mother's clemency process before the governor because he “believed that is what God had led me to do, to forgive Mom and try to reestablish a relationship with her. It started when I thought Mom should know she had a grandchild.”

The reconciliation and forgiveness came from Stephen a quarter of a century after finding his father beaten and dying in their family home.

He told News 2 that he “was only going to do a book if it helps people.”

When asked if she was thinking about a book, Gaile Owens was very quick with a one-word and polite response of “no.”

Owens told News 2 that when not working, she spends time with her grandchildren going to parks, sporting events, “or just watching them sometimes to soak up every minute with them.”

In a statement on the day of her release, Gaile Owens said she “never wanted to speak to the media,” but when asked why she has changed, the former Death Row inmate said “you do things for your children.”

Owens though, says she is not quite content just to be a grandmother.

“I continue to transition, and I just believe there is more out there for me, even though I am sixty one years old,” she said with a grin.

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