After deliberating for about five hours, a Morgan County jury this afternoon rejected a Decatur woman's plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease and found her guilty of murder in the June 2016 shooting of her husband.
Jurors heard more than two days of testimony in the trial, with the two sons of the defendant testifying. The jury started deliberations Thursday afternoon and continued until about 3:30 this afternoon.
Michelle Owens, 48, was charged with murder in the June 26, 2016, shooting of her 44-year-old husband, Lawrence Edward “Eddie” Owens, at the family’s home in Decatur. The weapon was a .38-caliber revolver. She had pleaded not guilty by reason of severe mental disease or defect.
“Obviously we agree with the finding of the jury,” said Assistant District Attorney Garrick Vickery, who prosecuted the case. “I’m happy for the family of Eddie Owens because their healing process was put on hold” until the trial. “This act devastated the family and took both parents away from three children.”
“As ever, we respect the work of the jury,” said Brian White, one of Owens’ attorneys.
White said his client needed help before mental illness resulted in her husband's death.
“This was a highly preventable situation,” White said. “There were signs, in retrospect, that were flashing beacons that something needed to be done.
“I’m not blaming anyone. ... It’s important to be vigilant about mental illness.”
At mid-morning today, during their deliberations, jurors asked to see Decatur police body cam footage from the night before the shooting at the Owens home when police responded to a domestic call there, as well as footage taken the day of the shooting at the home.
Vickery had said in his opening statement of the trial that Michelle Owens had the “presence of mind” to buy the revolver and ammunition at two different stores and to keep her older teenage son out of the house after the shooting.
Nicholas Owens, 22, testified on Wednesday that his mother had been “acting weird” in the weeks before the shooting and had said that “the world was out to get her.” He was 17 at the time.
About three weeks before the shooting, witnesses testified, Michelle Owens was in the foyer of a Hendersonville, Tennessee, church on a Saturday afternoon and would not allow two male ushers to enter the building. At 2 a.m. the next day, a Tennessee deputy testified, he pulled her over and she was speaking in tongues. She was taken to the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Hospital in Nashville and diagnosed with schizophrenia, court documents show.
Jury foreman Brandon Rice said after the verdict that one thing that stood out to jurors was that after the incident in Tennessee, “there were times of normalcy, there were times of sanity” for Owens.
“We felt that for us (to render a not guilty verdict) would require us to make an assumption of the state of her mind” at the time of the shooting, he said. “We didn’t feel comfortable making an assumption.”
Owens’ 11-year-old son, who was 7 and at home at the time of the shooting, testified on Tuesday.
“I saw my mom shoot my dad,” he said. He said after that, he and his mother watched a movie in the living room. “I remember crying,” he said.
Circuit Judge Stephen Brown, who presided over the case, set a sentencing hearing for Jan. 5 and ordered that Owens be held at the Morgan County Jail without bail until then.
The maximum sentence for a murder conviction is life in prison.