Set Free: Discover Forgiveness Amidst Murder and Betrayal

Set Free: Discover Forgiveness Amidst Murder and Betrayal

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by Stephen Owens, Ken Abraham

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“Gaile Owens is my mother. I am her son. Please do not take this from me. There is no justice in taking her life. There is no justice in denying the healing power of forgiveness.”

Stephen Owens was 12 years old in 1985 when he discovered his father at home badly beaten and near death. Evidence proved Stephen’s mom, Gaile, had hired a hit man


“Gaile Owens is my mother. I am her son. Please do not take this from me. There is no justice in taking her life. There is no justice in denying the healing power of forgiveness.”

Stephen Owens was 12 years old in 1985 when he discovered his father at home badly beaten and near death. Evidence proved Stephen’s mom, Gaile, had hired a hit man to carry out the murder, and she was sent to death row. Stephen and Gaile did not see each other for decades, but through an amazing series of life transformations and revelations about the tragic event, God opened a door for both of them to be set free -- one from a prison of unforgiveness, the other from a literal prison cell.

While the events surrounding Gaile Owens’ release made national headlines and have stirred widespread fascination, Set Free far exceeds the experience and expectations of a modern true crime story, proving to be much more about God as the loving author of true forgiveness.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gaile Owens hired a hit man to murder her husband and was sentenced to death in Tennessee. Her son Stephen spent a good part of his life estranged from her and refusing to participate in the effort to get her sentence commuted. The murder left the adult Stephen a tormented man, trying to cope with its effects on his life: his marriage, his children, his employment, his relationships. Stephen's Christian convictions slowly come to ally him with the secular world of lawyers and journalists trying to help his mother. This tale of ultimate mercy is very slow in developing. A few lucky relationships with influential people in Tennessee help save Gaile's life. "Forgiveness is not merely an isolated action; it is a continuous attitude," the author concludes. This book will appeal to people of faith looking for a story of redemption. (Oct.)

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B&H Publishing Group
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8.40(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.80(d)

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Discover Forgiveness Amidst Murder and Betrayal


B&H Publishing Group

Copyright © 2013 Stephen R. Owens with Ken Abraham
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4336-8023-6


Murder in Memphis

I should have known something was up when Mother informed my younger brother Brian and me that we were going to Aunt Carolyn's house to play games after church on Sunday night. Sunday night? "Please, Mom, can't we go with Dad?" I begged.

"Yeah, we want to stay with Dad," Brian echoed. "Please, Mom. Can we?"

Ordinarily, if our family didn't go straight home after evening church services, Brian and I would go with Dad to the gymnasium on the property, where Dad coached the church basketball team. At ages eight and twelve, Brian and I considered Dad as our hero who could do no wrong and we loved being with him any time, especially when he was playing or coaching basketball.

But on that night, Sunday, February 17, 1985, Mother insisted that we go to Aunt Carolyn's house, about two blocks away from the church, to play board games. It just didn't feel right. It was almost as though Mom didn't want us to go home.

We ate a late snack and then played games for several hours, leaving Aunt Carolyn's around 10:30 p.m. Our two-story home in Bartlett, a suburb of Memphis, was located on a corner lot on Sceptor Drive, a peaceful, quiet, residential area lined with large oak trees. Even late at night, it had a safe feeling to it. But when we finally got back to the house shortly before 11:00 p.m., the moment we made the turn and pulled into the driveway, I noticed Dad's Honda Prelude sitting in the driveway with its driver's side door open, the interior light still on. That was odd. Dad's sports jacket and tie were still lying over the back of the car seat, as though he had gone into the house and would be coming back out momentarily. That was unusual, too. Dad was a particular dresser, and he was not one to leave his good sports jacket rumpled in the car.

As soon as Mom pulled her Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme into the driveway behind Dad's car, I hopped out and shut Dad's car door, just like I knew he would want me to do. I continued around to the back of the house and found the large wrought iron door to our laundry room and kitchen unlocked. The door was ajar and the keys were still in the lock.

I pushed the door open and stepped inside. When I walked into the kitchen, I was shocked. The place was a mess! The chairs to the kitchen table had been overturned and lay sideways on the floor. Dad's yellow Puma gym bag looked as though it had been slung over the kitchen table, with the contents strewn in every direction. Something red—something that looked like blood—was spattered and smeared on the wall and the floor.

A dim lamp was on in the den, so I turned the corner past the laundry room, walked through the kitchen, and naively stepped into the den. The sight I saw will haunt me for the rest of my life.

There, lying face down on the floor, with his head turned away from me, near the fireplace, was my dad. At first, I thought he might be sleeping since Dad sometimes fell asleep on the floor while watching television after an exhausting workout, so I gingerly slipped over to him. I peered down intently at him, shook him slightly, and rolled him over. That's when I saw the blood, which was already soaking the beige carpet in front of the fireplace. I looked more closely at my dad's head and it was obvious that he had been in a fight. His nose looked crooked, his head and face were severely beaten and bloody. It was then that I heard the awful sounds in Dad's throat. Even as a twelve-year-old kid, I knew my hero was dying.

Frozen in place with fear, and not knowing what else to do, I screamed.

Mom rushed to the doorway and when she saw the grotesque scene in the den, she screamed as well. "He's been shot!" she wailed. Instinctively, she drew Brian to her and would not allow him to enter the room. "Stephen, get out of there," she called to me from the doorway. "Come on; we have to get out of here."

Although I was too horror-stricken to think straight at the time, Mom's response later puzzled me. Shot? Why in the world would Mother think that Dad had been shot? There was no evidence of a gun. There were no bullet casings, no shells, and no weapon lying on the floor. Shot?

Mom hustled Brian and me out of the den and out the back door to the neighbors' house, where she called the police and an ambulance. Help arrived in a matter of minutes, but the severe trauma Dad had suffered from the multiple blows to his head and face were more than his body could withstand. He remained unconscious and barely breathing as the ambulance roared out of our driveway, the siren blaring on the way to the hospital.

An autopsy later revealed that Dad had been bludgeoned, hit at least twenty-one times in the head by a blunt instrument, thought to be a tire iron. The blows were so severe, they had driven Dad's face into the floor, crushed his skull, and forced bone fragments into his brain.

Apparently, Dad had put up quite a fight. Police investigators later determined that Dad's assailant had been hiding in the storage shed and had attacked him from behind as he opened the door to the house. The attacker somehow forced the altercation inside the house and Dad fought him around a staircase and into the den, but the violent blows from the steel tire tool were overpowering, and Dad went down. That didn't stop his assailant, who the police determined had struck Dad several times in the face and head even when he was already incapacitated, unable to fight back anymore, and lying on the floor. The medical and forensic investigators discovered strands of Dad's own hair between his fingers, and found that Dad had also sustained extensive injuries to his hands, indicating that he had attempted to cover his head as he was being beaten with the tire iron. The madman who had done this horrific deed had been relentless in his attack.

Brian and I remained at the neighbors' home while Mom went on to the hospital to be with Dad, and to answer questions from the police. At about three o'clock in the morning, Brian and I were transferred to our pastor's daughter and son-in-law's residence, as the police combed the area in and around our house looking for clues. When the sun came up, they continued their investigation, eventually conducting a search of Dad's office at the hospital, and interviewing numerous friends, coworkers, and business acquaintances of our family.

My brother and I didn't go to school that next day. We were worried sick about Dad. About mid-morning, Mom and our minister, Pastor Jimmy Greer, gathered Brian and me and other family members to tell us that Dad had not made it. At 2:40 a.m., less than four hours after I had found him on the floor, Dad had passed away. I was overwhelmed with grief. My dad, my mentor, my best friend, and my hero was dead.

The next few days spun by in a blur as we prepared for Dad's funeral. Mom seemed deeply troubled, sullen and sad, which seemed normal to everyone, especially me. Who wouldn't be upset if a family member had been murdered—and for no apparent reason? Nothing seemed to be missing from our home, so obviously the assailant's motive had not been burglary. Why would anyone want to hurt our dad? And if Dad was targeted, was anyone else in our family or neighborhood safe?

I didn't notice anything unusual about Mom's demeanor or her actions that week. Although I didn't step into the den, I saw the carpet in the room had been torn up, leaving nothing but an exposed concrete slab. We quickly exited the house and I don't ever remember returning to it. We were all grief-stricken and devastated, being comforted by church folks who wanted to protect us at all costs. It never even crossed my mind that Mother might be involved in Dad's death.

On Friday of that same week, I went to a friend's house, where I was supposed to spend the night with him. But shortly after I arrived, some relatives came and spoke in quiet tones to my friend's mom. I would not be able to spend the night. Instead, they took me to Aunt Carolyn's home.

As soon as I walked in the door, I could tell something serious was going on. Aunt Carolyn and Pastor Greer sat Brian and me down and as tactfully as possible told us, "Your mother has been arrested." They tried gently to tell me why Mother had been apprehended, that she had been involved somehow in the murder of my father.

"No!" I cried out. This could not be happening. Somebody has made an awful mistake. Mother loves Dad!

The horrific nightmare was getting worse.

Excerpted from SET FREE by STEPHEN OWENS, KEN ABRAHAM. Copyright © 2013 Stephen R. Owens with Ken Abraham. Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen Owens lived with his aunt following the death of his father and incarceration of his mother. He graduated from the University of Memphis, earned a master's degree from Middle Tennessee State University, and enjoys a successful teaching career. He lives with his wife and two sons near Nashville.
Ken Abraham is a New York Times best-selling author known for getting "more heart on paper than any other cowriter in America" in books with 9/11 United Flight 93 widow Lisa Beamer (Let's Roll!), financial expert Dave Ramsey, action hero Chuck Norris, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and others.

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Set Free: Discover Forgiveness Amidst Murder and Betrayal 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
heatherb72 More than 1 year ago
A very powerful, must read! This is a real life story about what God can do in a person's life if they allow it. There are some things that ONLY God can do. This is that type of story. Reading this story is like reading about a miracle God performed. God weaves a tapestry out of our lives whether positive or difficult things happen. This book takes one of the most difficult times in a person's life and tells the story for God's glory. Authentic, real, and applicable to the reader. Again....highly recommend!