NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After a quarter century on death row, Gaile Owens walked out of prison Friday with a few belongings and a simple wish: to walk in the park with her family.
The 58-year-old Memphis woman came within two months of being executed last year before her sentence was commuted — not because she was innocent, but because then-Gov. Phil Bredesen thought her punishment was excessive.
Owens admitted to hiring a hit-man in 1985 to kill her husband and the father of her two children. Supporters who tirelessly made the case to release her say she was an abused wife who has rehabilitated herself in prison.
Owens was all smiles as she pushed a yellow laundry cart containing her belongings past the razor-wire fence of the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.
She gave her son, Stephen Owens, a long embrace and told him she loved him. She then turned to hug longtime cellmate Linda Oakley, who is now free. Well-wishers shouted: “We love you, Gaile!” and “Go to the beach!”
Then she and Oakley got into a car and left with Gene and Pat Williams, who have known Owens for 13 years through a prison Bible study they lead. Family friends said Owens will be living with the Williams family.
Owens did not speak to the media but issued a statement.
“I’m looking forward to leading a quiet, private but productive life,” it 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.”
The statement also said Owens 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,” it read.
Owens learned last week that the parole board had voted to set her free. No one spoke out against her release at the hearing three weeks earlier.
AG Holder answers critics on gun-smuggling issue
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that his testimony to Congress about a controversial gun-smuggling probe was truthful and accurate and that Republicans are engaging in political posturing when they say otherwise.
In his most forceful criticism of Republicans during his time as attorney general, Holder said that he had said little so far about the gun-smuggling probe because the Justice Department inspector general is investigating it but that he could not sit idly by while a Republican congressman suggested that law enforcement and government employees be considered accessories to murder.
Key Republicans say the attorney general knew many months earlier than he has admitted that the gun-smuggling probe by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives involved agents letting guns pass from small-time straw purchasers to arms traffickers.
“I have no recollection of knowing about” the operation, called ‘Fast and Furious,’ or of hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it,” Holder said in a letter to key Republican and Democratic members of Congress who oversee Justice Department issues.
He said that before early this year, “I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation and it is my understanding that the former United States Attorney for the district of Arizona and the former acting director and deputy director of ATF have told Congress that they, themselves, were unaware of the tactics employed.”
He was referring to the tactic known as “letting guns walk” from stores with suspected straw purchasers, rather than seizing them there, in an effort to track them to gun-running kingpins, who had escaped charges in the past.
Operation Fast and Furious came to light after two assault rifles purchased by a now-indicted small-time buyer under scrutiny in the operation turned up at a shootout in Arizona where Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was killed.
3 women share Nobel; led change in Africa, Mideast
OSLO, Norway — Leymah Gbowee confronted armed forces in Liberia to demand that they stop using rape as a weapon. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first woman to win a free presidential election. Tawakkul Karman began pushing for change in Yemen long before the Arab Spring. They share a commitment to women’s rights in regions where oppression is common, and on Friday they shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee honored women for the first time in seven years, and in selecting Karman it also recognized the Arab Spring movement championed by millions of often anonymous activists from Tunisia to Syria.
Prize committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said it would have been difficult to identify all the movement’s leaders, and that the committee was making an additional statement by selecting Karman to represent their cause.
“We have included the Arab Spring in this prize, but we have put it in a particular context,” Jagland told reporters. “Namely, if one fails to include the women in the revolution and the new democracies, there will be no democracy.”
Karman is the first Arab woman ever to win the peace prize, which includes a 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award that will be divided among the winners. No woman or sub-Saharan African had won the prize since 2004, when the committee honored Wangari Maathai of Kenya, who mobilized poor women to fight deforestation by planting trees.
“I am very, very happy about this prize,” said Karman, who has been campaigning for the ouster of Yemen’s authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh since 2006. “I give the prize to the youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people.”
Sirleaf, 72, won Liberia’s presidential election in 2005 and is credited with helping the country emerge from an especially brutal civil war. She is running for re-election Tuesday in what has been a tough campaign, but Jagland said that did not enter into the committee’s decision to honor her.