Gaile Owens, a 58 year-old Memphis woman, was released Friday from the Tennessee Prison for Women after spending 26 years on death row, whose release was just two months shy of being executed by lethal injection.
Owens was convicted in 1986 for hiring a stranger, Sidney Porterfield, to kill her husband, Ron Owens.
Owens, wearing a gray sweater and dark pants, was greeted by a small group of supporters Friday as she wheeled a yellow laundry cart filled with her belongings.
During her time in prison, Owens became a symbol of unfairly punished battered women. Supporters for Owens' release claim she took drastic action when she saw no escape from her abusive marriage. She was imprisoned after admitting to hiring someone to murder her abusive husband and the father of her two sons in 1985. Her supporters argued for her release, saying she had rehabilitated herself in prison.
In 2010, Owens' sentence was altered by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen who thought the punishment was excessive. However, if all had gone as scheduled, Owens would have been executed by lethal injection last September.
As she walked out of the Tennessee Prison for Women, she hugged her son, Stephen Owens, and supporters shouted: We love you, Gaile! and Go to the beach!
This will be a slow process that we will focus on one day at a time, Stephen Owens, her son, told The Associated Press. The days ahead will be completely new and different for all of us; but as always our confidence and trust are in God.
We're looking forward to being a family again, he said.
Although she did not speak to the media, Owens issued a statement.
I'm looking forward to leading a quiet, private but productive life, her statement read. But more than anything, I'm looking forward to being a mother and a grandmother. I can't wait to see my grandchildren and to fulfill my dream of walking in the park with my family.
Owens also plans to find a job and do volunteer work.
I feel a responsibility to give back to those who have given so much to me, the statement claimed.
In 1986, Owens was sentenced to die for arranging Ron Owens' murder. She claims she could no longer handle the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse from her husband. She asked Sidney Porterfield to kill him in late 1984. A few months later, Porterfield clubbed Ron Owens 21 times with a tire iron. Gaile Owens and her children arrived at home to find him bleeding and dying.
At first Owens accepted a plea deal that would give her life in prison, but when Porterfield backed out of the plea, both were sentenced to death row. Porterfield remains there.
At the time of her sentencing, a life sentence meant serving 30 years, but Owens was eligible to be released early due to good conduct.
I hope today is the last day I will ever face the media or be in the public eye, Owens wrote in her statement. Thank you for telling my story, but please let today be the final chapter.