Margie Owens has been in state prison since 1998 for killing her husband inside the couple’s Walker County trailer. She was sentenced to life in prison plus five years for shooting Randall Owens.
But Owens was somehow convicted of both felony murder and voluntary manslaughter, which isn’t legal, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday. Instead, the felony murder charged should be thrown out, the court ruled.
Had she been convicted only on voluntary manslaughter charges, Owens would have faced a maximum sentence of 20 years. She also received 5 years for firearm possession in her trial.
“We affirm Appellant’s conviction and sentence on the firearm count, we vacate her conviction and sentence for felony murder, and we remand the case to the trial court with direction to enter – promptly – a conviction and sentence for voluntary manslaughter,” the court wrote in its ruling.
The high court also ruled that Owens should not have had to wait so long for the appeals process. It took 19 years from the time Owens was sentenced for murder to the time her appeal reached the Supreme Court.
In June 1998, Owens filed an appeal for a new trial. But it took more than eight years for a hearing on that appeal, and she was denied a new trial.
By Sept. 17, the state Supreme Court has ordered the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia to submit a proposed Uniform Rule of Superior Court designed to address delays such as in Owens’ case.
“Some delay is inherent in any legal system, particularly one as busy as Georgia’s,” the Supreme Court ruled. “But we must all work to prevent delays, particularly in the most serious of our criminal cases, that cannot be explained or justified to the parties in those cases, the victims of crimes, and the public we serve.”
On May 17, 1997, Owens went to her brother-in-law’s home nearby and used his phone to call 911, telling the operator that she “may have shot her husband.” Officers found Randall Owens lying face down on the floor, dead from a gunshot wound to his back.
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Owens told officers she and her husband had been in an argument and she shot him. During her trial, Owens testified that her husband had a history of domestic violence, and the day she shot him, Randall Owens had held a gun to her and threatened to kill her.
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Margie Owens was sentenced to life in prison, plus five years for having a firearm. But had she been sentenced on the voluntary manslaughter charge, her maximum sentence would have been 20 years, the Supreme Court said. Had she been sentenced correctly at the time of her conviction, Owens may already be out of prison, the court ruled.
“Indeed, had the parties identified and agreed on the court’s obvious sentencing error not on appeal but at the motion for new trial stage, the court might well have corrected the error then, rather than having to do so more than 11 years later,” the Supreme Court wrote.