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Gaile Owens has been on Tennessee’s death row for 25 years for setting her husband’s murder in motion, but a jury never heard the whole story.

No Angel, No Devil



Part I synopsis:

In 1985, Gaile Owens was an active member of her church and a singer in the choir — a charming Southern woman with such sterling Middle American credentials, some thought of her as a contemporary June Cleaver. She was the mother of two handsome boys; she was the devoted wife of Ron Owens, who was a pillar in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett and the associate director of nursing at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis. He was a Vietnam medic, twice wounded — or at least he said he was. Together, they were the kind of family Ron's friends wanted for themselves someday.

But if the family unit seemed too good to be true, it was. Gaile and Ron hid dark secrets few, if any, knew about — the legacy of Gaile's dark and violent childhood, the alleged marital sex abuse that bordered on mutilation, her embezzlements and his extramarital affairs. In a final corrosion of the American dream the Owens family seemed to embody, Gaile began searching for a hitman to murder her husband.

On Sunday, Feb. 17, 1985, Gaile met with a mechanic named Sidney Porterfield in a motel parking lot in Memphis. It was decided, Porterfield claimed, that he would go to her house that day and "check out the circumstances." Both said money didn't change hands, and that no concrete plans to murder Ron Owens had been established. With that, Gaile drove her Buick Cutlass out of the Memphis ghetto and back to the embrace of Abundant Life Church, just in time for choir practice. She was no longer the desperate, ineptly scheming wife whom winos in the grimy Bearwater section of Memphis knew as "Big Money." She was Gaile Owens, the unassuming and perpetually smiling mother of two.

After the Sunday evening service, Gaile spent time with her sons and her sister Carolyn while Ron played basketball. The boys' routine was to watch Ron play every Sunday, without fail. For some reason, Gaile wouldn't allow it on this night. At around 9 or 9:30, Ron told his good buddy Keith Ferguson he was going home to get something to eat. He threw a yellow vinyl duffel bag into his Honda Prelude and headed for home. But there was already someone waiting for him, and it wasn't his wife or his two sons.

Read Part I in its entirety HERE.

Part II

Gaile Owens gathered up her boys, Brian and Stephen, and steered for their picture-perfect two-story home on a quiet, oak-lined street in the new East Hills neighborhood. It was between 10:30 and 11 p.m., a last moment of peace before the world tilted. As far as the boys knew, their mother would always love their father, and their father would always love them. As far as they knew, a bloodbath did not await them at their happy home.

When Gaile pulled up to the house, Stephen, then 11, must have sensed something was off. The driver's door to his father's Honda was ajar, its interior light a dull glare. His dad's suit jacket and tie lay on the car seat, and the back door to the house was open. Ron's keys hung in the deadbolt.

Stephen walked in through the open door, through the laundry room and into the kitchen. He saw his father's gym bag sitting on the floor. Usually, he put it on the table, but tonight the table was jammed against the wall. Two chairs were knocked over, the boy noticed. And then he saw.

Ron Owens lay unconscious on his side, his legs drawn up toward his chest in a fetal position on the living room floor. His breathing was labored because his nose was badly broken, and the blood was draining into his sinus cavities. Blood was everywhere — spattered on the walls of the kitchen, spattered on a painting of a barn in a gauzy pastoral scene. It pooled around his head on the beige carpet.

Stephen would later say he thought his father had been shot. In fact, Ron had been struck with a blunt object, repeatedly. A deep gash marred his forehead. Lacerations peeled back his scalp. Shards of his skull had been driven into his brain, and the ring finger of his right hand had nearly been amputated, likely a defensive wound.

The crime scene was so grisly that in years to come — as people tried to make sense of the crime, and Gaile Owens' part in it — the question would come back like a stain: Why would a supposedly doting mother, who claimed she had risked jail time to steal for her children's support, allow her child to find his father's mutilated body? More to the point: If Gaile knew Ron would be dead or dying when the family arrived, why would she scar her son forever with the sight? Unless, of course, she didn't expect Ron to be dead.

Nevertheless, when Gaile saw Ron, Stephen didn't remember her screaming. He said she told him to go next door and get the neighbor, Charles Horton, and to call the police.

The first Bartlett police officer arrived a few minutes later. When he saw Ron — probably the only gravely injured person he'd ever seen outside of an auto accident — the shaken policeman immediately radioed the ambulance crew already en route. He told them to drive faster.

It was now 12:30 a.m., and no more than three hours had passed since Keith Ferguson saw his best friend Ron pull out of the parking lot of Abundant Life. Ferguson heard his phone ring. Ron, he was told, had been beaten. Badly. Ron had been transferred from Methodist Hospital North to Baptist, his place of employment.

When Ferguson arrived at the hospital, Gaile looked devastated — the picture of a grieving wife. The outlook was bleak. Ron's head was now grotesquely misshapen. The many blows had caused catastrophic bleeding and swelling of his brain. His Baptist colleagues fought to save him, but he was too far gone. At 2:40 a.m., Feb. 18, 1985, they pronounced Ron Owens dead.

The murder shook the people of Bartlett and the employees of Baptist. Sure, this kind of thing happened all the time in Memphis, they said — but not here. No one could make sense of it.

"He was just a super nice fellow," David Hallford, the club pro at Woodstock Hills Country Club, told the Bartlett Express. "I can't imagine anyone like Ron having anything you'd call an enemy."

The Express mentioned Ron was coaching a basketball team of 15-year-old boys — seven of whom served as pallbearers at his funeral. The article also dutifully passed along Ron's oft-repeated falsehood that he served in Vietnam and was wounded twice — an inexplicable lie refuted by his military records.

Though his death didn't make the front page of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, it didn't escape the notice of at least one Bearwater denizen. Ron Owens' body wasn't even in the ground before George James, an informant who had extorted money out of Gaile before, contacted her once again.

James and his cronies, who included George "Bubba" Sykes and Michael "Twin" Powell, had already bled Gaile dry in Bearwater. Now he wanted more. But with the funeral to pay for, the death of the primary breadwinner and two sons to feed on her own, Gaile told him she couldn't get him the money now. She didn't have a cent to spare.

If Gaile was ever going to shut George James up, she needed money, and fast. Her sister Carolyn's then-husband Joey Hensley, now a Tennessee state representative, was named executor of Ron's estate. He held the purse strings. Carolyn said Gaile told her Ron had life insurance — a $40,000 double-indemnity policy through Baptist, along with two smaller policies that would pay $10,000 and $15,000 apiece. Because Ron was murdered, a total of $105,000 would be paid to the sole beneficiary: Gaile Owens.

Carolyn said she later found out Gaile had called Baptist Hospital after the murder, either about Ron's life insurance policy or about his credit union account. To be sure, Gaile was now shouldering a heavy financial burden. She needed all the help she could get.

But by that time, Carolyn said, it was already too late. The police had frozen everything.

Initially, the Bartlett police had little to go on. Det. K.D. Wray, a sober-looking man with precisely parted, thick brown hair, was assigned to the case. He searched the house but found no physical evidence left by the killer. No fingerprints. No murder weapon. Nothing. But when he tossed Ron's office at Baptist, he turned up something interesting — letters from a nurse at the hospital named Gala Scott.

In the letters, Scott referred to Ron as "Flufflicker." He, in turn, referred to Scott as "Lollipop." Clearly these were not letters between mere colleagues.

When Wray questioned Scott, she confirmed she'd had an affair with Ron Owens but insisted that it had ended three years before. They had talked about getting married at one point, Scott said, but Ron told her he couldn't leave the boys. She didn't know of anyone who would want to harm him, but she added that Ron had financial troubles in the past — troubles caused by Gaile.

Wray then talked to Rev. Greer, the Owens' pastor and Carolyn's mentor. The pastor told him the couple had problems, but it seemed to him as though things had been improving. To Wray, it sounded like a dead end.

That's when he got a call from the Memphis chief of police. The chief said he'd received a tip from the postal inspector down on Front Street. The tip was about the Owens murder, and it might as well have come with a bow on it.

One way or the other, George James was going to get paid. Since he figured he'd squeezed his last dime out of Gaile Owens — and that if he didn't come forward, he would be pegged as the killer — James decided to visit someone with deeper pockets. He went to the Office of the Postal Inspector, hoping to collect a reward. He told them a story about a rich white lady in Bartlett, a story so outrageous it had to be true. But another call would be needed to make sure.

When Gaile answered the phone, James was on the other end of the line — along with Bartlett and Memphis detectives who were silently listening in. He told her he needed $1,000 to drop it.

"Give me some time to get the insurance money," Gaile told James as the police recorded, according to newspaper accounts. "Call me in 60 to 90 days. Since he died the way he did, the police have frozen everything."

Gaile said she "was too busy with relatives," according to the police report. But James didn't relent. He insisted they meet.

"I tell you what, just give me 60 to 90 days," she pleaded. "Come on, George. The detectives are all over the place out here. I need to get the hell out of here." Finally, she agreed to meet him in the parking lot of the Raleigh Springs Mall near the J.C. Penney.

On Feb. 20, 1985, James paced the asphalt as he waited for Gaile to pull up. Memphis and Bartlett detectives, including Wray, had wired him and were monitoring the parking lot from across the street at Vickers Gas Station. Just before 3 p.m., James saw Gaile's blue Buick pull into the parking lot. She got out and he followed her into a nearby store, where she must have picked up some cash. They got back into the Buick and she handed James two $20 bills and two $10 bills.

"You know, I just want you to know, because, you know, like you said, do you actually think that Bubba [Sykes] did that?" James stammered, referring to the murder. Gaile said she didn't know who did it. James tried to elicit the words police needed. He asked why she wanted Ron dead in the first place.

"We just had a bad 13 years. You don't need to know anything else. Give me a break, OK?" she replied, as Wray and the other detectives listened in. "I've been through a lot. I don't know what's going on or who did it or anything. I'm just sitting on pins and needles, and I don't know who else is going to call."

Because Gaile had no idea she was being recorded, the statement could be construed two ways. It could mean she knew of no concrete plans to murder her husband. But it also indicated, at the very least, she set in motion the events that led to his death.

Either way, police heard all they needed. Seconds later, the car was surrounded. "What's going on?" Gaile asked as police moved in.

On the way to the Memphis Violent Crimes office, Gaile told police she only met with James because she thought he had information regarding the murder of her husband. "I didn't murder no one," she said. That's when Wray told her the conversations with James had been recorded.

At that point, she told him she had just wanted Ron "roughed up because of the affairs he was having." But by the time she reached Violent Crimes, Gaile admitted to putting a price on Ron Owens' head.

She insisted, though, that when she arrived home the previous Sunday, she thought the matter remained "unsettled." In fact, she told them she met with a guy named Porterfield the day Ron was killed. He told her he hadn't been able to "make contact" with Ron yet. She said she told him not to bother, to forget the whole thing. She hadn't even paid him yet.

Gaile Owens wasn't a tough nut to crack. She immediately admitted her involvement and discussed her reasons for wanting her husband dead, however vague. "We've just had a bad marriage over the years, and I just felt like he had ... mentally I just felt like he had been cruel to me. There was very little physical violence."

If the detectives found her to be inarticulate in describing her motives, they must have noticed she was also clearly remorseful.

"I'm sorry. I wish I'd never done it," she said. "I really don't know, except that I felt like I had had all I could take over the years ... just the mental abuse I felt I had been through."

At first Porterfield, grabbed by the police, clammed up. But once he started talking, around roughly 9 p.m., he gave a chilling — and troubling — account of Ron Owens' last moments alive. His confession would raise as many questions as it seemed to answer.

Porterfield told police he parked a borrowed car along Oak, which intersects Scepter. The Owens' house was on the corner. He claimed he brought a tire iron because he didn't know whether Gaile had a dog, and he might have to use it to break in.

Porterfield was crossing the lawn, he said, when Ron pulled up the driveway that runs behind the house. He saw the intruder and asked what he was doing. Porterfield claimed he was looking for an address, but Ron didn't believe him. Ron grabbed him by the wrist, he said, and attempted to drag him into the house so he could call the police.

In a panic, Porterfield said, he struck Ron Owens with the tire iron. He wasn't sure how many times. He said he had no idea he'd actually killed Ron until he saw it on the evening news Tuesday night.

Almost every detail of Porterfield's confession should have raised warning flags. Ron's vinyl gym bag, which held his basketballs, was found inside the house. When was he able to bring it inside, if he was wrestling a tire-iron-wielding killer into the house at the same time? How exactly, during that literal life-or-death struggle, was he able to unlock his iron storm door and his back door while holding his gym bag and the killer?

Then there was the savagery of the crime. If Porterfield did it, as he confessed, he didn't just lash out a few times. Ron Owens had been deliberately hammered into bloody submission. Such a bludgeoning should have left physical evidence everywhere at the crime scene, from the killer and on the killer. None was found linking Porterfield.

Even so, Porterfield confessed to police he dropped the tire iron and his gloves in a dumpster behind the liquor store near his shop. These were not recovered. His roommate, George "Bubba" Sykes, saw him come in that night, as did a few of his friends. They testified that Porterfield was the same old "Runt," as Sykes sometimes called him. They claim they saw nothing strange about him at all.

And so Wray closed what police saw as an open-and-shut case.

If the murder of Ron Owens shocked Bartlett, the news that Gaile was behind his death sent the town reeling. What had once been relegated to the Metro section of the Memphis Commercial Appeal was now front-page news.

For some who knew the family, it was too much to believe. "I'm sure she'll be cleared. Gaile Owens isn't capable of that," a neighbor told the Commercial Appeal following her arrest. When asked if the Owenses had any problems, the neighbor replied, "If they did, they kept it a good secret ... Everything they did was primarily for the children."

Lucy Shaw, Ron's colleague at Baptist, was stunned. "Not Gaile," she says she remembered thinking. "Not gentle, sweet, unassuming Gaile." Shaw couldn't help but wonder what had set her off. "Whatever it was," she says, "it had to have been awful."

In an insane way, what happened seemed to make sense to Ron's brother, David, who lived in Arkansas. "I didn't think there was any real problem. He kept a tight budget on them and she didn't have all the money she wanted to spend," he told the Commercial Appeal. "She had some troubles at work. I won't get into that, but she had some trouble. It shocked me [to hear that she was a suspect in the slaying], but it didn't come as any great surprise."

In a macabre development, her black-widow tale drew morbid sightseers to the quiet, oak-lined street in East Hills. "They've been coming by like that since Tuesday," a neighbor told a reporter as cars slowly rolled by the Owenses' house.

If anyone outside that home might have seen trouble coming, it was Gaile's sister Carolyn. Phone numbers listed under Carolyn's name in Memphis have been either disconnected or transferred, and the Scene could not locate her for comment. This much is known, however: Any doubts she had about her sister's guilt vanished when she went to clean the family's home.

Beneath the mattress in the guest bedroom, Carolyn made a discovery: a navy blue purse. It contained checks for utilities that hadn't been mailed and large bills from Sears and Dillard's. It also held a photo of Ron, a description of his car, and his schedule — and an envelope with a key to the house inside.

Assistant District Attorney General Don Strother was dead set on prosecuting Gaile Owens and Sidney Porterfield in the same trial. Because the defendants were conjoined, the public defender's office would represent only one of them — Porterfield. It would be the first of many crippling blows to her defense.

Gaile was frank about her guilt, almost from the start. Given the lack of evidence against him, however, except for his confession, Porterfield and his defender now contended his innocence. If the trial were separated, Strother fretted he might not able to use Gaile's pretrial statements about her meetings with Porterfield against him in court.

Strother must have known he had a weak case. Even after interrogating Porterfield for five hours, police still had no murder weapon, no physical evidence at the home, no eyewitnesses and not a single witness who could even hint beyond a reasonable doubt at his involvement. The prosecution had only a witness who could confirm Porterfield met with Gaile the day Ron was murdered. And there was the matter of Porterfield's confession — a notoriously unreliable arbiter of guilt and innocence. According to the Innocence Project, out of all DNA exoneration cases, 25 percent of the defendants found innocent made initially incriminating statements or full-blown confessions to police.

Other doubts surfaced. A neighbor of Porterfield told the Commercial Appeal Gaile visited the confessed killer's home two or three times a week during the four months preceding the murder. But the neighbor withheld her name, leaving no way to verify the allegation. Porterfield wasn't even the only one living in that house — George "Bubba" Sykes, one of the Bearwater corner men who'd strung Gaile along, was his roommate.

Police also had statements from Gaile indicating she was broke at the time and couldn't afford to pay Porterfield the day they met at the motel. Nothing indicated Porterfield had called Gaile after the murder to collect. Was the jury to believe he gave her a freebie? The case against Porterfield was by no means ironclad, and Strother knew it. Police hadn't even bothered to sweep the car he allegedly drove from the Owenses' home.

Prosecute Owens and Porterfield together, however, and her statements about their meetings bolstered the flimsy evidence. Strother shrewdly lashed them to the same mast.

For a moment, Gaile's defense seemed to catch a lucky break. Stephen B. Shankman, a private attorney, was appointed to represent Gaile. From the first moment Shankman met her, he said in an affidavit, she insisted on pleading guilty — meaning to spare her family the ugly proceeding. But after some initial reluctance, Gaile confided the things she said Ron had done to her. If they were forced to trial, Shankman was confident she had a viable battered women's syndrome defense.

For whatever reason, though, Shankman wasn't able to work out a payment arrangement for his services. He bowed out. Another local attorney, James Marty, was appointed to represent Gaile and to join attorney Wayne Emmons in her defense.

With the blessing of Ron's family, Strother made one last effort to avoid trial. He offered Gaile and Porterfield a deal. In exchange for a guilty plea, they'd receive life sentences. There was one caveat: The offer was contingent on the acceptance of both defendants.

Gaile immediately accepted. But Porterfield had no intention of serving a life sentence for a crime he now claimed he didn't commit. With his refusal, Strother rescinded the offer. Gaile would now be on trial for her life.

As Marty and Emmons prepared her case, Gaile put certain restrictions on what her attorneys could and could not do — though what, exactly, she forbade them from doing was a point debated by high courts decades later. To be sure, Stephen and Brian were definitely off limits. Carolyn, too. But even if — especially if — her testimony could have helped Gaile in any way, Carolyn made it clear she would not have participated in her defense.

Either way, if what Gaile said about Ron were true, who could possibly corroborate what took place in their bedroom? And as even some of the highest courts in the land would later confirm, who would have believed her? Who would take the word of a convicted embezzler over a successful, respected pillar of Bartlett who had been wounded in Vietnam — twice?

To get her to defend herself, however, the major obstacle her attorneys faced was her great shame. Shame for what she said had been done to her body. Shame for not satisfying Ron's appetites. Shame for not being woman enough to keep him from wandering. There was no way Gaile would address any of this in front of hundreds of strangers.

But Marty and Emmons persisted. In a pre-trial hearing, they requested court funding to hire an expert witness who they believed could testify that Gaile suffered from battered women's syndrome. The trial was scheduled to begin soon, and Gaile had only recently opened up about her marriage to her attorneys.

To experts in the field, this isn't surprising. Women who are sexually abused generally keep the secret for a long time, if not forever. But Judge Joseph McCartie was unmoved. Strother also cried foul: "No witness has been brought in here to say, 'Oh, I knew Mrs. Owens and, yeah, this guy used to batter her, or she told me about it and I saw her injuries.' There is no proof before the court, so there is no basis whatsoever for this motion."

Getting nowhere, Marty got specific: "During the course of our investigation with Ms. Owens, we have determined and learned from her that the deceased engaged in certain sexual perversions, to wit, sodomy, fellatio to the point where she was required to throw up, to the point where she was — her rectum was torn ..."

"You got medical proof?" Judge McCartie asked.

"We have her proof, Your Honor," Marty replied.

"Oh, her sister [Carolyn] told us this is what she was going to try," Strother sniped. If the dismissive treatment of Gaile's abuse claims sounds callous, bear in mind that the legal climate for abused women in the mid-1980s was far from progressive. Marital rape wouldn't be recognized as a crime in all 50 states until 1993.

In the end, McCartie declined to grant funding to hire an expert for Gaile's defense. The best she'd get, he said, was the customary examination at the local mental health clinic, where her competency to stand trial would be determined. This would be the last time anyone in McCartie's court brought up Gaile's alleged sexual abuse.

But if the denial of expert testimony was a gut-punch to Gaile's case, the next setback was a knockout blow. Gaile told Marty and Emmons that Ron had been having an affair. So her attorneys concluded there must be evidence of this. They requested any "names, addresses, letters, notes, all sorts of things we believe ... relate to the extramarital affairs of the deceased and the strange sexual proclivities ..." Emmons said.

Strother said he knew of no such letters. "To the best of my knowledge, we have shown them every single scintilla of evidence which we have seized and which we have that came from the house," he professed.

Emmons wasn't completely unprepared. He knew police had searched Ron's office and asked for an inventory of items seized. Still, Strother said none existed. "Everything we have in the way of any kind of piece of physical evidence, any piece of paper, any notebook ... anything along those lines ... letters and et cetera, that we have, we have made available to them."

"Well, I certainly accept that," Emmons said, defeated. "I've got no reason not to."

But there may have been reason to doubt Strother. Big reason. While claiming he'd turned over everything in his possession to the defense, his statement was only half true, according to the testimony of one detective. Wray would later testify Gala Scott asked that the love letters be returned to her. When Wray asked someone if he could return the letters — "to the best of my memory," he said, "it was General Strother" — he was told the letters were immaterial. And so this key evidence was handed off.

To appellate attorneys who later represented Gaile, along with U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Gilbert Merritt — who, coincidentally, taught Strother law at Vanderbilt — this omission reeked of prosecutorial misconduct. The former prosecutor, however, tells the Scene Wray is mistaken.

"I have absolutely no recollection of there being any such letters," Don Strother says. "And I have no recollection of giving any instructions."

If Strother was, in fact, withholding evidence, it wasn't the first time he failed to show his hand — as a prosecutor is legally obligated to do. Gary Cone was an honorably discharged veteran of Vietnam who, like so many of his brethren, developed a nasty drug addiction after the war. One day he robbed a Memphis jewelry store, shot a cop and a bystander, and later beat an elderly couple to death.

After a manhunt, he was apprehended in Pompano Beach, Fla. Pointing to his traumatic service in Vietnam and alleged amphetamine psychosis at the time of the crime, Cone's defense revolved around insanity. That defense was undermined when the prosecutor pointed to the lack of evidence corroborating Cone's drug use. The prosecutor was Don Strother.

As Cone's case unfurled — all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where his death sentence was vacated and remanded — it was determined that Strother withheld testimony that backed Cone's claims, including a police bulletin distributed while he was still at-large characterizing him as a "heavy drug user." It might not have been enough to change his guilt, but the court ruled it might have altered the sentence he received.

"If it appears to have been a tactical decision and a tactical program," began Justice John Paul Stevens, referring to Strother's failure to turn over the evidence to the defense, "it seems to me very difficult to assume that the prosecutor thought it was really not important evidence."

Justice Stephen Breyer was less reserved: "You're saying that the lawyer, the trained lawyer for the government, who knew this information and knew the defense — just what? Just overlooked it by accident?"

Cone and Gaile weren't alone. Philip Workman was charged with shooting a police officer during a botched robbery at a Wendy's restaurant in Memphis. Again, Strother was the prosecutor. The murder weapon Workman allegedly used was loaded with hollow-point bullets, which characteristically shatter upon entrance to the body.

These bullets rarely exit the body. But when they do, they leave a large exit wound. The exit wound on the officer's body, by contrast, was quite small — indicating perhaps only a tiny shard cut all the way through. Either the other shards remained in the officer's body, or a bullet different from Workman's was used.

Strother, it was later found, failed to produce an X-ray requested by Workman's defense that showed an utter absence of bullet fragments in the police officer's body — raising serious doubts whether the fatal bullet came from Workman's gun. Workman was executed in 2007.

"Allegations such as those are constantly made against prosecutors. As far as I know, they've always been unfounded," Strother tells the Scene. "This is news to me if suddenly they are finding I've done something improper."

If court documents and judicial opinions are to be believed, he has. And to bolster his case against Gaile Owens, Judge Merritt and Gaile's current counsel say, Strother played hide-and-seek with Gaile's defense attorneys. Without Gala Scott's letters, there was no way to prove Ron had an affair. Moreover, without expert testimony, there was no way to prove Gaile had been sexually abused — and she stubbornly refused to take the stand.

This would allow the prosecution to construct the narrative of its choosing. It didn't help that the defense seemed in a state of near-constant flux. A month before the trial began, Emmons stepped down from Gaile's legal team. Marty was forced to cast about for an 11th-hour replacement, and he enlisted the help of Brett Stein.

On Oct. 22, 1985, Gaile was given a routine examination at the Shelby County Jail's mental health clinic by Dr. Lynne Zager, the forensic coordinator. It was three months before the proceeding, and the doctor was to determine whether Gaile was fit to stand trial.

The women had three sessions together, during which Gaile told her of Ron's affairs and abuses. By the end, Zager said, she got the distinct impression she was looking at a clear case of battered women's syndrome. She saw all the hallmarks: low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and fear.

As part of her examination, Zager was tasked with establishing sanity or its absence at the time of the crime. Gaile said she wanted to talk to her attorneys before discussing the details of her involvement. But each time the two women met, Gaile told the doctor she hadn't had an opportunity to speak with them. Zager didn't get the sense that Gaile was putting her off: the accused was only trying to green-light the chat with her lawyers first (although Marty later claimed he was sure he told Gaile to cooperate).

That would be hard to do, though — since court records indicate that from Oct. 3 to Nov. 10, neither attorney visited Gaile in jail. Nor did they follow up to get Zager's opinion on the battered women's defense. If they had, Zager would have told them she agreed, and they could have taken her testimony back to Judge McCartie as immutable proof that an expert was required to evaluate Gaile.

But they didn't. All Zager could do was send a boilerplate memo to the judge establishing Gaile's competence to stand trial. When reached by the Scene, Marty said he'd have to review the court record before commenting. After sending Marty an Internet link to the relevant documents, he did not respond by press time.

So began a tragicomedy of errors, lax lawyering, outright lies and possibly unconstitutional evidentiary omissions — all conspiring to ensure the jury would never hear the whole story.

For nearly the entire trial, Gaile sat mute, wringing her hands and occasionally crying. Despite her attempts to avoid exposing her sons to the courtroom, on Jan. 11, 1986, Stephen Owens was among the first witnesses. The prosecution called the 12-year-old boy to the stand to testify against his mother.

None of what he had to say was good for Gaile. Her son talked about Ron's basketball game that he was forced to miss, about the awful scene he stumbled upon, and about the bank statements he'd seen beneath the mattress. When Stephen was released, he walked down the aisle as his mother watched him intently. According to newspaper accounts, the boy didn't return her gaze.

One by one, the corner men of Bearwater took the stand against her: George "Bubba" Sykes, Michael "Twin" Powell and, of course, George James. These witnesses were drunks, murderers, thieves, or a combination thereof. One can probably imagine how their testimony played with a Bartlett jury of Gaile's lily-white peers.

The most devastating salvo, however, came from a churchgoing hairdresser with flawless witness credentials: Gaile's sister, Carolyn, the prosecution's star witness. She laid it all out — Gaile's insistence that the boys accompany her to Carolyn's house, the embezzlements, the unpaid bills, the life insurance. Everything. In case there was any doubt in a juror's mind, Strother played Gaile's confession and the conversations between her and James.

In rebuttal, all her attorneys could do was jab feebly at some of the witnesses. Sometimes they didn't even do that. As the guilt phase of the trial wound to a close, there wasn't much Marty could do but plant seeds of doubt. Had Gaile caused Porterfield to murder her husband? After all, there was no evidence she'd paid him anything. So did this man, no matter how dull, commit murder for nothing more than an IOU? What could have caused a woman like Gaile to venture out into Bearwater, seeking such sordid company? he asked. He could only hint obliquely that these were the actions of a desperate, possibly unhinged woman.

Where Marty was vague, however, Strother was lacerating. This wasn't the murder of a spouse caught in flagrante, he said. Gaile spent weeks coolly seeking a hitman. The only reason she was desperate, Strother opined, was "because of her own actions, she was about to lose everything that mattered to her, and there was one way and one way only to salvage that, to salvage her way of life, and that was to have her husband killed and collect the insurance money."

After 70 minutes of jury deliberation, to no one's surprise, the verdict came down: guilty. The real battle for Gaile's life remained to be fought during the sentencing phase — and for this, Marty and Stein would prove woefully unprepared. According to court records, they spent just two hours preparing for the penalty phase of the trial. (Stein did not respond by press time.) It showed in the dearth of mitigating witnesses, of whom there were only three. There was a Shelby County jailer who said Gaile spoke often of her children and attended a Bible class. There was a woman who supervised the laundry services at the jail, who said Gaile was a diligent worker. And there was Dr. Max West, the therapist she saw after her embezzlement conviction some eight years earlier.

West made only one substantive comment: "I think my opinion was that she, indeed, had some problems." Strother objected to everything else the doctor said, claiming it was hearsay. Judge McCartie sustained his objection. For reasons that would be sussed out later, Marty didn't overcome the objection. Unlike the guilt phase of the trial, hearsay is allowed in the penalty phase. There was no reason West shouldn't have been able to testify further. Marty could have pointed this out, yet he didn't.

In the penalty phase, Strother lapsed into pure disingenuousness. "Let us earn the respect for the court system that it deserves," he thundered, "and bring back not the verdict that I say is appropriate, but the verdict that, in this case, is the only verdict that truth dictates and justice demands" — meaning death.

Evidently, though, there were at least two verdicts justice could demand. The jury had no idea Strother had offered both Gaile and Porterfield life in prison in exchange for a guilty plea before trial. Strother, 6th Circuit Appeals Court Judge Gilbert Merritt wrote in his 2008 dissenting opinion, was engaging in "death penalty gamesmanship." To secure a high-profile conviction, it appeared, he'd offered her life in prison in exchange for a guilty plea. When Porterfield declined to accept the plea deal, he yanked the offer from Gaile. Now he was telling jurors that the death penalty was the only punishment befitting the crime.

Marty wanted to inform the jury of this fact. Judge McCartie wouldn't allow it.

Given what the jury had heard over the weeklong proceeding — as well as what they hadn't — they handed down death sentences for both defendants. It must not have been an easy decision. At least one juror dabbed tears from her eyes as the verdict was read, a Commercial Appeal reporter observed. When asked for comment on the courthouse steps, another juror brushed the reporter off, blurting, "I'm too depressed."

While in the Tennessee Prison for Women, Gaile had no contact with her sons, who were being raised by Carolyn. There were no letters, no phone calls, and certainly no visits. Gaile reportedly asked Carolyn at one point to let her speak to them on the phone every couple of weeks. Carolyn allegedly agreed, but the calls never materialized. Nor was it clear that the letters she sent to her sons were ever received.

"All I ever knew with regard to that was that Carolyn's position ... that was up to Brian and Stephen really, if they wanted to have contact with her that would be OK," says Keith Ferguson, Ron's good friend. "And if they didn't, that would be OK too, and it was up to them."

There are a number of possible reasons why Carolyn and Gaile's relationship soured so abruptly. It certainly could be, in part, revulsion at Gaile's role in Ron's murder. It could have been the lies she said Gaile told. It may very well have to do with the breakup of Carolyn's marriage to Joey Hensley less than a year after Gaile's conviction, though she denied her divorce had anything to do with it. Friends close to the family, however, suspect the divorce came about in no small part because of the turmoil stirred by the trial, and because of the pressure of raising two young boys who had only recently lost their mother and father.

There is one man who undoubtedly has insight into the dissolution of Gaile's relationship with her sister and her children — the Rev. Jimmy Greer of Abundant Life. When reached by the Scene, he was unambiguous on the matter.

"My number-one concern is the protection of her sister and her two sons," Greer said. "What I know and what I understand will go with me to my grave."

More than a decade later, Gaile Owens got a second chance in court. Attorney Ron Gilman was appointed to represent her at state post-conviction trial. He asked Stephen B. Shankman—the attorney who stepped down before trial for financial reasons—to join him. Shankman enthusiastically accepted, and later said in an affidavit that he was "disappointed that Ms. Owens had not been allowed to plead guilty, that her attorneys had not raised the battered women's defense and that Ms. Owens received the death penalty."

As before, Shankman believed the battered women's syndrome defense was Gaile's best bet, so they contacted Dr. Lenore Walker, the expert who coined the term and established the symptoms. Walker reviewed the court records and concluded there was "a strong possibility" that Gaile was battered.

Gilman and Shankman requested expert funding. Just like Marty and Emmons at trial, they were rebuffed — but this time the attorneys appealed. In 1995, the Supreme Court of Tennessee ruled that every capital petitioner was entitled to expert funding at post-conviction. It was a rare triumph for Gaile's defense team. It also proved short-lived. Soon after the precedent-setting victory, Gilman became a candidate for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Her best attorneys both withdrew from the case.

It cannot be understated what a disastrous effect this had on both her post-conviction trial and future appeals. Her defense became a snowballing catastrophe. She received a new attorney, Paul Morrow from the Post-Conviction Defender's Office. Morrow decided Gaile's post-conviction trial would hinge upon two points: an initial defense so shoddy it deprived her of a fair trial, and a "psychosocial assessment" of her life. But instead of hiring Dr. Walker, the "mother" of battered women's syndrome, to deliver that assessment, the attorney hired Eric Gentry — a certified trauma specialist with a master's degree in counseling and a lapsed social worker's license, whose main recent accomplishment had been hiking the Appalachian Trail.

To be sure, traumatology is a legitimate if controversial field, used notably to probe the unseen wounds of New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina. Unlike Lenore Walker, though, Gentry had never testified in court and held only a handful of fairly dubious-sounding certifications. He'd never had any of his work published, though he said he had an article accepted for publication. Calling him a less than commanding witness is like calling Larry the Cable Guy less than erudite.

The results, when Gentry took the stand, were a disaster for Gaile and her attorney. Rarely will you see an expert witness treated with unmasked contempt, as Gentry was in open court, and ridiculed as he was in later high court opinions. From the moment he lurched awkwardly into his assessment — "They were ... they were poor," he stammered — the judge took Gentry behind the proverbial woodshed, admonishing him for providing no basis or context for his conclusion. It went downhill from there. At one point, Gentry became so flustered by the cross examination of the state attorney, he declared he'd never testify in court again.

Sadly, his awkward presentation made it easy to ignore the information he had to share. He'd been able to speak to relatives of Gaile's who have either died by now or who did not respond to the Scene's repeated calls for comment. Gentry spoke at length with Wilson Kirksey, Gaile's disabled brother, at his assisted living facility. His interview with Wilson was, to put it mildly, inconclusive. In the beginning, Wilson was open and warm. About their childhood home, Wilson allegedly told Gentry, "Mister, let me tell you, it was a living hell." But by the time he returned for a second visit, Gentry found, Carolyn had gotten there first.

"I can't believe you're taking advantage of a retarded person," Carolyn allegedly said to Gentry. "And you are sleazy and I've contacted every state official to let them know what kind of person that you are." Before Gentry left, he handed Wilson his card. Wilson, Gentry testified, shoved the card into his mouth, chewed it up and spit it out.

When Carolyn herself got up on the stand, it was hard to believe there had ever been a blood bond between the sisters. After characterizing Gaile as a pathological liar, Carolyn said she would not have testified on her sister's behalf. And if she had, she added for emphasis, her testimony would have been damaging.

"Rather than her get out and manipulate and maneuver the rest of (her sons') lives and make their lives miserable, I would rather see her go to the chair than do that," Carolyn said. "They have suffered enough.

"I don't want Gaile to be out, OK? Ron is dead and I don't want her to be out, you know? The falling apart of my marriage had nothing to do with the children or Gaile. There was no animosity toward her. It hasn't built from that point. It's not that. It is the — it is the continual lying, the manipulation, the — maneuvering of the children's emotions as well as everything else. And then finally Ron's death. OK? All those things, they all add up, you know, into where we are. And so because of where we are, by things I could not control, I have to say, yes, the sentence was a fair and just one."

It's not clear when Gaile could have maneuvered her sons' emotions regarding her current predicament. She hadn't seen or heard from Stephen since he testified for the prosecution in 1986. Carolyn did say Gaile's attorney, Morrow, asked her, Stephen and Brian — who were 24 and 21 at the time, respectively — to aid him with his case. Apparently running into resistance, he asked them if they wanted to see Gaile executed, she testified. Whatever bad blood existed between Gaile and her family before this, it flowed now.

Next, Morrow set about demolishing Gaile's defense team. He called Gaile's trial attorneys, James Marty and Brett Stein, to the witness stand. Morrow grilled Marty, wanting to know why he abandoned the battered women's syndrome defense. Marty countered that the restrictions Gaile placed on them, regarding who they could and could not talk to, made it impossible to raise such a defense.

Clearly, though, if they had talked to Dr. Lynne Zager, the therapist who evaluated her competency for trial, they would have found an alternate avenue. Indeed, just because a client wants certain guidelines doesn't mean the attorney is off the hook to provide a comprehensive defense. The American Bar Association says a thorough investigation should be conducted "regardless of any admission or statement by the client concerning the facts of the alleged crime, or overwhelming evidence of guilt, or any statement by the client that evidence bearing upon guilt is not to be collected or presented."

Then there was the question of why Marty held his fire when the prosecution shut down Dr. Max West's testimony as hearsay, even though hearsay is allowed in the penalty phase of a trial. Marty claimed he was afraid of what West would say. West, he said, told him Gaile was a "pathological liar who could possibly commit homicide."

This, according to West, is simply not true. Based on a single, hour-long session with a woman he'd never counseled before — who was there because she was convicted of embezzlement — West countered he could never have reached the conclusion that she was "homicidal." In fact, it was Gaile herself who told him she had a hard time being truthful with her husband.

Morrow went just as hard after Gaile's other attorney, Brett Stein. He mentioned that Stein had been disciplined by the Board of Professional Responsibility in 1988 for "failing to investigate and advise his client sufficiently" whether to use certain witnesses or a blood test in his defense. So notorious was this misstep that the post-conviction judge — an assistant district attorney at the time of Gaile's trial in 1986 — added that Stein's rebuke from the BPR resulted in a common practice around the DA's office known as "the Stein rule." "We make sure and get blood tests and DNA tests because of that," he said. Marty himself was censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility in 1998 for forging the signature of an attorney he'd worked with before so he could represent a client in Mississippi, where Marty was not licensed.

In the end, though, none of it mattered. The judge showed what he thought of Gentry's expert testimony by putting his area of expertise in quotes. He called much of Gentry's testimony "double- and triple-hearsay" and added it could hardly be believed because most of it came from Gaile. Her own sister, after all, described her as a chronic liar, he said. There were no medical records and no witnesses to back up the abuses she said she suffered in the bedroom. Nor was he buying her claim of inadequate representation. He took at face value Marty's claims that he'd prepared properly and legitimately feared West's testimony. And with that, the post-conviction judge pulled the noose taut around Gaile Owens' neck.

The findings of a state post-conviction court carry the same weight as a jury verdict. For this reason, the bungling at post-conviction and at criminal trial colored any state or federal appeal Gaile could ever file. When the Court of Criminal Appeals in Jackson, Tenn., reviewed Gaile's case in 1999, they were bound by the post-conviction court's findings. The test wasn't whether the decisions reached at the state level were wrong. Unless the rulings were "unreasonable," Gaile was out of luck.

The Appeals Court chided Gaile for failing to cooperate with Dr. Lynne Zager, though Zager later clearly stated she wasn't being uncooperative — she just didn't see her attorneys for a month while the examination was administered.

Similarly, Gaile's attorney, Paul Morrow, argued that the love letters between Ron and Gala Scott could have aided Gaile's defense. But because the prosecution allegedly gave them back to Scott before trial began, Gaile was cheated of evidence that could have turned the tide during the punishment phase.

In Morrow's estimation, the trial court had violated the precedent set by Brady v. Maryland, a case eerily similar to Gaile's that cemented the prosecution's obligation to turn over evidence it uncovers — even evidence that could harm its case against the defendant. In a 1958 robbery gone awry, either John Brady or his accomplice, Donald Boblit, strangled a man to death. Brady claimed it was his accomplice who did the killing, but he was eventually convicted of the murder. It was later found that the prosecution withheld evidence that might not have gotten Brady off the hook, but could have lightened his sentence.

The Brady rule's aim was to make the criminal trial a neutral inquiry into guilt and innocence, rather than an adversarial shooting match filled with gotcha moments. In Gaile's case, if the prosecution had turned over Ron Owens' love letters to the defense, Assistant District Attorney General Strother would have been deprived of the black-widow narrative he dealt so successfully to the jury. Instead, unable to portray Ron as a blameless martyr, he would have had to subsist on the jealous-wife-of-a-cheating-husband story. With that knowledge, would just one of the 12 jurors have voted for life instead of death?

Eschewing common sense, however, the Criminal Court of Appeals found the letters would have simply given Gaile motive to kill her husband. Their decision completely ignored what effect they might have had on the sentence she received. The Appeals Court's argument centered on the fact that Gaile knew her husband was having an affair. Thus the defense wasn't entitled to evidence it already knew about. By that standard, though, the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't have granted relief to Brady. After all, didn't he already know he hadn't actually killed anyone?

Here's a question no appellate court ever attempted to answer when declining to grant relief under the Brady rule: How would Gaile and her attorneys have proven an affair occurred without those letters? Were they to call Gala Scott up to the stand and cross-examine a potentially hostile witness in a her-word-vs.-mine Mexican standoff? No one but Strother and Bartlett Police detective Wray even knew Scott had admitted to the affair in the first place. The letters, as far as her defense knew, were mere rumor. Nothing could have been as persuasive as providing jurors with the incontrovertible proof of Ron Owen's illicit liaisons — love letters signed with the pet names "Lollipop" and "Flufflicker."

Nevertheless, in an incomprehensible decision that was soon to be followed by others, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruled against Gaile.

By 2008, there was no doubt that the failures at trial and post-conviction hung around Gaile's neck like a yoke. It was as though her court case was a broken record, forcing the appellate judges to sing the same tune over and over again, no matter how flawed. There was nothing supernatural about any of it. In fact, there's a name for it: the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).

Under this act, even if a state court's findings are based on misunderstandings or even flat-out lies, federal courts are bound to give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if Gaile's current counsel unearthed new evidence of just how bad her representation had been, the appellate judges could ignore it altogether. Under AEDPA, it wasn't about what Gaile's counsel knew now. It was about what her attorneys knew back then. If the evidence hadn't been presented in the state courts, it was probably out of bounds.

So it was when Gaile found herself in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. In opinions penned by the two-to-one majority against Gaile's petition, Chief Judge Boggs and Judge Siler repeated some of the same misconceptions drawn in the lower courts, while displaying an understanding of sexual abuse that some found archaic. The judges parroted the post-conviction court's finding that Gaile was uncooperative during her visits with Dr. Lynne Zager before trial. When Zager read the opinion penned by Boggs, she said she was "disappointed" to see her visits with Gaile characterized that way.

The 6th Circuit majority shredded Gentry's testimony, then refused to consider it at all — noting that much of his information came from Gaile, who "certainly has a motive to be less than truthful." They latched onto her statements to police at the time of her arrest that there was "very little physical violence" in her marriage to Ron, and to the lack of medical and documentary evidence proving the sexual abuse. Leigh Goodmark, an associate professor of law at the University of Baltimore who specializes in domestic violence, said most judges reside in two categories: Either they have no understanding of the insidiously secretive nature of spousal abuse and insist on eyewitness reports and medical records, or they are locked into stereotypes of the defenseless battered woman who'd never dare raise a finger to defend herself.

"The 6th Circuit is a step before that," she tells the Scene. "They don't even get the basics."

If the majority's arguments harkened to a time before spousal rape was outlawed, when it came to Gaile's representation at trial, their conclusions were a contradictory jumble. They claimed Gaile's testimony to Eric Gentry should be given little weight because she had a motive to lie, yet they lambasted her for not taking the stand at trial to recount her husband's affairs and abuses.

The majority's ruling on the letters was similarly inexplicable. They claimed the record was unclear on who had the letters and why they were given away. In Gaile's favor, though, the judges characterized the state court of appeals ruling that the letters would not have helped Gaile as "questionable," adding, "There is a longstanding, commonsense belief in our culture that people who kill their spouses because of infidelity are not as morally culpable as other murderers."

To find that a violation of the Brady rule occurred, the judges said prejudice must be found: The "probability that there would have been a different result had the evidence been disclosed." It's reasonable to assume that at least one juror — knowing that Ron was cheating on Gaile — might have decided she deserved life in prison instead of death. The majority completely ignored the possibility, Judge Gilbert Merritt noted in his dissenting opinion.

The majority hinted that, under other circumstances, it might have come down on the issue differently. But despite its stark definition of prejudice, the majority deferred to the procedural restriction that had dogged Gaile's case since it left the state courts.

"Perhaps we would have ruled differently on Owens' Brady claim if we were the state court," Judge Boggs wrote, referring to the restrictions of AEDPA. "But we are not the state court."

One by one, Gaile Owens' options dwindled. After Gaile had spent nearly 25 years on death row, her new attorneys, Kelley Henry and Gretchen Swift of the Federal Public Defender's Office, appealed to the highest court in the land. Her case continued until it found itself in the U.S. Supreme Court summer certiorari pool — the last place any lawyer wants a petition to land. Instead of going directly to the justices, Gaile's fate was now in the hands of their law clerks, who decide whether or not to recommend the case to a particular justice.

The odds were stacked against Gaile's case being heard in the court. The Supreme Court receives thousands of petitions each year. It takes up roughly 75. To add to that, Gaile's wasn't the kind of case the high court usually hears. The U.S. Supreme Court isn't interested in mopping up after lower federal and state courts. The justices want cases whose significance and consequences could reverberate beyond the confines of the players involved — cases that tackle unanswered legal questions.

In fact, a case in many ways identical to Gaile's had already been taken up by the Supreme Court justices — Gary Cone's, the deranged Vietnam vet who went on a murderous rampage. In both cases, the same prosecutor, Don Strother, did not supply the defense with evidence favorable to the defendant. In both cases, the evidence in question may have altered the penalty given.

But Gaile's case, though a spectacle of courtroom catastrophe, was not the kind likely to receive an audience with the justices. It seemed too messy, too unknowable. Even after the 6th Circuit ruled against her, uncertainties remained. As a result, Gaile's petition was unceremoniously passed over by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Then, finally, the last door open to Gaile Owens in the appeals process clanged shut. On Monday, April 19, 2010, the Tennessee Supreme Court declined to commute her sentence. Gaile Owens will now be put to death on Sept. 28, 2010.

There is, of course, one last recourse standing between Gaile and a lethal injection. As they cited their own lack of jurisdiction in the case, the State Supreme Court justices went out of their way to point out that Gov. Phil Bredesen is bound by no such restriction. He may commute her sentence if he so desires.

With no barrier between her and the death chamber but a governor in the waning days of his final term, Gaile's fate is shrouded. Bredesen commuted the death sentence of Michael Joe Boyd, an inmate convicted of murder during a Memphis armed robbery in 1986. The commutation was granted on grounds similar to those sought by Gaile's attorneys: Inadequate legal representation at post-conviction prevented the justice system from probing his claims of an unconstitutionally shoddy trial defense. These limitations raised enough doubt for Bredesen to suspect the jury might have reached a different verdict had Boyd been adequately represented — circumstances that sound chillingly familiar today. Yet Philip Workman received no such mercy from Bredesen's hand.

That places even more burden on Bredesen to confront the inconsistent manner in which death is dealt in this state. Take Barbara Tipton, for example, who was convicted of enticing her young lover to murder her husband with a shotgun in 1982 on a rural road out in Grainger County. Tipton testified her husband sexually abused her in the months before his murder, though her attorneys didn't utilize battered women's syndrome as a defense. She was sentenced to life in prison and later released on parole. Gaile Owens is sentenced to die.

The inequities are even more savage with cases of women who played direct roles in their husbands' deaths. Take the notorious case of Mary Winkler, who blasted her preacher husband in the back with a shotgun and based her defense on allegations of marital sexual abuse. A beneficiary of somewhat enlightened attitudes toward spousal abuse, Winkler ended up serving just over two months. Gaile Owens is sentenced to die.

Gaile's story resembles many others, yet it differs on one point: Those women served life in prison or less, often for eliminating a husband who stood in the way of a relationship with a new boyfriend. Gaile's husband was cheating on her and possibly sexually abusing her. Yet Gaile Owens is sentenced to die.

If Gaile Owens was devastated by the deathclock set in motion by the state last week, she handled it the same way she had taken so many setbacks, hurts, crises and tragedies over the years: with utter stoicism. She has come to expect nothing less from life — from a troubled childhood, to a troubled marriage, right on down to a disjointed court system that would never listen to her story. She has told those close to her that she won't seek legal recourse if Bredesen fails to commute her sentence.

Friends told the media last week that news of her imminent death did not stop her from performing her many duties at the prison. She still counsels inmates and juggles a multitude of tasks. She still attends Bible study. And more than likely, until an end comes, she will tend to the Tennessee Prison for Women with the same homemaker's determination she used a lifetime ago — on a quiet suburban street, with a storybook family, in a picture-perfect home, where she greeted all who passed by with the fixed, ever-present smile that the perfect wife and mother is supposed to have.

If the state of Tennessee kills her, Gaile Owens will likely face death with that very same smile.


Read Kay West's story about Gaile Owens' life in prison, her reconciliation with her son, and more.

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