Friday, March 05, 2010

Gaile Owens, Death Row, and Abuse

Abuse is a weird thing.  It's hard to understand it if it's never happened to you, it's hard to imagine that people you know and love might be experiencing it, and it's even more difficult to assess a situation where abuse is happening and make a judgment on it.  

I come from a line of strong women.  Frontier women, pioneer women who dealt with hostile natives (not to pass judgment on native peoples, but you know what I mean), survivors who did what they had to do.  So of course I look at a situation where a woman has been abused and has stayed in the situation and think, "What? Why would she put up with that?  Why wouldn't she stand up for herself?  She must be weak."  

I'm not going to share the details of the situations in my family where it came to light that there was abuse happening, but it did, and it was shocking and upsetting, and I experienced rage like I've never known before. The women in my family, my sisters and my mother, are tough.  They eat nails for breakfast and pick their teeth with machetes.  But they're also the kind of women who stick to their guns, which would explain why a bad situation could escalate.  

All I know is that after my experience with abusive husbands, I feel compelled to rush to the defense of Gaile Owens.  This is a woman in Tennessee who is on death row for arranging the murder of her abusive husband in 1985.  She's 57 now and has been in prison since then.  The state attorney general's office is asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to set a date for her execution.  There are many details about this, but I won't list them all here.  To read more about it, visit the Friends of Gaile website, read about it, sign the petition if you disagree, write about it, share it with your friends, and do all this even if you don't live in Tennessee.  

It's unjust, as I see it.  I'm not opposed to the death sentence and there are times when I feel that it may be the most merciful thing for a criminal for various reasons I don't care to go into right now.  I don't think murder is justified, but as her defense points out, what kind of escape existed for an abused woman in Memphis in 1985?  Was there somewhere she could run to for protection?  Things like that exist now.  But I don't think they did then.  And what about Mary Winkler?  Remember Mary Winkler?  She murdered her husband, ran away, and eventually was acquitted of the murder.  

What I'm saying is that the justice is not equal.  Gaile Owens pled guilty to the charges after accepting a prosecutor's offer to do so in exchange for a life sentence.  I can hear you, yes, you're saying, "What's that?  You mean, they did the old bait and switcheroo?"  Yeah, they did.  Sounds like dirty politics to me.  It's just shameful.  

Well anyway, all her defense is asking for is that Gaile's sentence be commuted to a life sentence and not death.  I hope for the best.  I hope Tennessee doesn't end up with Gaile's death on its hands, because I don't want it and I live here too.  

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