Abused In Childhood Then Sentenced To Die: 5 Stories


Late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun

The late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun regretted the Court's 1976 Gregg vs. Georgia decision allowing executions to resume, saying in his dissent: "The path the Court has chosen lessens us all."

Daniel Cook, abused since infancy and now facing execution on August 8 in Arizona, is just the most current example of someone who endured severe childhood abuse only to later face execution. (Cook has a clemency hearing on Aug. 3; the prosecutor opposes his execution and it can still be stopped.)

There have been plenty of others.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In its 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, the US Supreme Court allowed executions to resume but required that juries be guided to restrict death sentences to the worst crimes committed by the worst offenders (aka “the worst of the worst”). The Court also endorsed laws “permitting the jury to dispense mercy on the basis of factors too intangible to write into a statute.” Defendants with mitigating circumstances (like youth, diminished mental capacity, or a history of childhood abuse) were supposed to receive lesser sentences.

So why do people with severe child abuse in their backgrounds keep ending up on death row?  Are they really among the worst? SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Shine A Light On Worker's Rights

On April 4, 1968, shortly before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood with sanitation workers in Memphis to demand human rights, basic respect and collective bargaining to gain a better life. Today, hundreds of thousands of people are taking the same stand—together.

On April 4th people across the country will come together in support of worker’s rights and against the current assault on worker’s rights playing out in various US states.

All workers have a right to organize and to bargain collectively. Amnesty International stands in solidarity with all those seeking to defend collective bargaining rights anywhere these rights are threatened, and on April 4 we urge governors and legislators to protect workers’ rights by rejecting any attempt to limit collective bargaining.

We encourage Amnesty members to join the April 4th events and honor Dr. King’s vision for human rights. To find an event in your area and for more information visit the  We Are One website.  RSVP on Facebook here.

The Attack On US Workers' Rights

Protesters join forces to kill Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's bill during a rally at the Capital Building on February 18, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mark Hirsch/Getty Images)

Legislation currently working it’s way through several US states would drastically restrict workers’ rights and violate numerous laws.

States including Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee–following Wisconsin’s lead–have recently proposed bills severely limiting the collective bargaining rights of trade union members.

Shane Enright, Amnesty International’s trade union adviser said that, if adopted, these measures would violate international law:

“The US has an obligation to uphold the rights of American workers – including the specific right to organize and bargain collectively.”

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a bill on Friday that undermines the ability of unions in the public sector to protect workers. The legislation also takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public employees, limiting their negotiation rights only to wages.


Posted in USA

UPDATE to An Ongoing Cycle of Violence

The cycle has ended, at least in this case.  Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen today commuted the death sentence of Gaile Owens who had been scheduled for execution on September 28.  She was sentenced to death for soliciting the murder of her husband, but her case garnered widespread publicity because of severe abuse she had endured at his hands.

Governor Bredesen cited similar cases as his reason for granting clemency, stating:

As heinous as the crime was, the record of how Tennessee has dealt with similar cases over the last century makes it clear that her death would have been a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Gaile Owens could be eligible for parole as early as 2012.

An Ongoing Cycle of Violence

On September 28, 2010, Gaile Owens, a 57-year old mother and grandmother, is set to be executed in Tennessee – she would be the first woman executed since 1820 in the state. She was convicted of soliciting the murder of her husband, Ronald Owens, more than 24 years ago. But since the conclusion of the trial, evidence has emerged that Gaile Owens endured severe abuse at the hands of her husband, and may have been suffering from “Battered Women’s Syndrome.”  

When Owens was arrested in 1985, she was appointed a lawyer who helped out at the beginning of the case but soon had to withdraw, leaving Owens with two other attorneys. The first lawyer though, signed an affidavit in 2009 recalling Owens’ state of mind the day after the arrest:

[Gaile was] extraordinarily remorseful for hiring someone to kill her husband. But her most immediate and profound concern was the well-being of her children. Ms. Owens was clear – she wanted to plead guilty and avoid a trial because she didn’t want to put her children and the rest of her family through any more pain…Ms. Owens was also immediately forthcoming with me regarding her motivations for hiring someone to kill her husband – her husband was abusive and cheated on her regularly. Based on the information she provided, I immediately recognized that the defense in this case should be that Ms. Owens suffered from battered women’s syndrome. Based on that, I believe this case should never have been a death penalty case.

Gaile Owens did indeed agree to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but was not allowed to do so because Sidney Porterfield, the man she hired, did not accept the agreement. Both were sentenced to death.

Gaile Owens has received support of organizations such as the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women and the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. They have called for her sentence to be commuted because:

Gaile Owens was a victim of serious abuse at the hands of her husband, including brutal sexual assaults… As organizations that work with victims of abuse, we are particularly appalled by the inadequate investigation and presentation of Ms. Owens’ psychosocial history by her trial attorney, and throughout the case. Ms. Owens was not examined by professionals with the expertise the case required, nor was relevant information presented (at all or as fully as needed) about the abuse she experienced over lifetime.

Putting Gaile Owens to death would do nothing now but make the state and people of Tennessee active participants in an ongoing cycle of violence.  If ever there was a text book case for a Governor to grant clemency and commute a death sentence, this is it.