Freddie Eugene Owens, from the Greenville News.
Supreme Court issues stay of execution for Freddie Owens
By Dan Hoover • STAFF WRITER • October 1, 2008
South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster opposes Owens request for a stay. The order gives Owens’ attorney until November 6 of this year, to file an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Owens (age 30), was sentenced to death by lethal injection at 6 pm on Friday, September 26, 2008, for the 1997 murder of local convenience-store worker Irene Grainger Graves. He killed fellow inmate Christopher Bryan Lee in 1999, the same day he was convicted for killing Graves (see account below). He has not been charged for that crime, pending outcome of his appeal.
Two-time killer Freddie Eugene Owens has received an indefinite stay of his scheduled Friday execution from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. signed the order Tuesday afternoon.
Roberts ordered the stay to allow the Greenville man’s attorney time to raise constitutional issues to the high court dealing with his death sentence stemming from a 1997 robbery-murder on Laurens Road.
In his order, Roberts wrote that should Owens’ petition for a writ of certiorari be denied by the justices, the stay would automatically terminate. That would clear the way for the state Supreme Court to set another execution date. A writ of certiorari requests the Supreme Court to review a decision by a lower court.
John Blume, a Cornell University law professor and death penalty opponent, filed the appeal. Blume is a former executive director of the South Carolina Death Penalty Project. He heads a similar program at Cornell.
The appeal that was filed Sept. 24 raises three issues from the penalty phase of Owens’ trial that will be included in a writ of certiorari that will be filed with the state Supreme Court. They center on the trial judge’s admission of records dealing with Owens’ behavior in prison.
Blume contended in the appeal that without the stay, "Mr. Owens will not have adequate time to properly prepare and file a writ ... in which to raise these constitutional claims."
According to all accounts, Owens has been sentenced to death no less than three times for the Graves’ shooting. The recent sentence, delivered in 2006, was unanimously upheld by the state Supreme Court on July 14, 2008. The two previous sentences were voided due to judges' errors.
Freddie Eugene Owens was born to a poor teenage mother and grew up in and out of foster care. Violence was the way:
As a target for neighborhood bullies, Owens often found himself being chased to and from school.After some serious skirmishes with the law, Owens ended up in juvenile detention, where he undoubtedly made friends interested in the same types of things he was interested in. On Halloween 1997, Owens, accompanied by three such friends, decided to go on a "robbing spree":
At age 6, his stepfather told Owens that he would no longer be allowed in the house if he planned to use it as a refuge from the bigger neighborhood kids.
If Freddie wanted to enter his own home, he had to fight his way in and fight his way out.
Freddie Owens learned to fight.
Role models in Owens' home were scarce. The new stepfather carried on the family tradition of spousal abuse.
Owens' grandmother, in an argument with Owens' uncle, pulled out a gun and shot the man. She went to prison when most people of her age were thinking about retirement.
Social worker Marjorie Hammock said that she has interviewed tens of thousands of troubled families during her career. Owens' family ranks among the worst, she said.
"It would rate down in that great group of people who had extreme poverty, extreme violence, and a lot of challenges," Hammock said.
For years, Owens' teachers struggled to figure out why he performed so poorly in school.
Psychologists tested his IQ. Over the years it ranged from the mid-80s to low 90s – average or slightly below.
Nonetheless, he was forced to repeat the first and sixth grades and dropped out of high school after his freshman year.
The account of the second murder is pretty bone-chilling:
They began at Anthony's Jewelers, but hesitated when a man in the parking lot saw Owens put on a mask.
Undaunted, the group hit a dry cleaning store, then a gas station.
They went to Owens' house and split up the money. While they were there they learned a man in the neighborhood had been in an argument with Owens' mother.
They jumped in the car and rode through the streets of Nicholtown looking for the man.
According to Golden, Owens was looking to shoot someone.
"He said he was going to 'kill someone tonight'," Golden said.
The four men drove to a motel and rented a room, intending to play cards later in the evening.
Within minutes, the four men were parked behind the Starvin' Marvin Speedway gas station on Laurens Road.
Two of the men intended to rob a nearby Waffle House while Owens and Golden robbed the Speedway. They were competing to see who could get back to the car first.
"We were racing," Golden said.
Golden ran into the Speedway first, clutching a .32-caliber pistol in his hand and demanding money from the store clerk, Irene Graves.
Owens ran behind the counter and demanded that Graves open the store safe.
She insisted she couldn't do it and suggested if Owens wanted it open, he could open it himself.
Owens said, "Oh, well," and shot Graves in the head.
The .32-caliber slug pierced her head and ricocheted off the inside of her skull. A co-worker found Graves in a pool of blood, a ballpoint pen clutched in her hand.
Golden and Owens ran back outside to find Young and Vance at the car. The two other robbers had again hesitated in their robbery. Owens asked Vance if he had heard the shot.
"I shot the bitch," Owens said.
It was only a week before word on the street leaked to investigators. A Greenville County SWAT team dragged Owens out of his house on the morning of Nov. 7. He was jailed and charged with murder.
In the 24-hour waiting period between the guilt and sentencing phases of Owens' 1999 trial, Owens met Christopher Bryan Lee in a cell they shared.And Owens shows absolutely no remorse and has continued to behave violently, which is why I think they will inevitably give him the needle:
Lee was serving a short sentence for a traffic violation.
It was 11 p.m. and the inmates were watching the news on television.
Newscasters told the story of Owens' guilt. Owens shook it off, worked out, took a shower and went to bed. At 3 a.m. officers entered the cellblock to take another inmate to prison.
According to a statement given to investigators, Owens said, "While they were getting the guy ready to go to Perry, Christopher Lee said, 'You won't be the only one because Freddie's coming down there with you.' I told him to 'shut the f--- up.' He told me his cousin was on the jury.' "
Owens hit Lee in the eye, knocked him to the ground, and stabbed him in the eye with a ballpoint pen.
Owens tried to stab Lee in the chest with the pen but it wouldn't penetrate. So, Owens stabbed Lee in the throat. Blood started to poor from Lee's mouth.
Owens wrapped a sheet around Lee's neck and started to choke him with it. He pounded the young man's head on the concrete floor. Fluid started pouring from Lee's nose and mouth.
Owens spotted a cigarette lighter under a bunk, lit it, and burned Lee's eye and hair. Owens rammed Lee's head into the floor and walked out of the cell.
According to the statement, Owens told investigators, "I heard the crazy moaning again so I grabbed the pen off the floor where I had thrown it and went back into his cell. I got back over him and rammed the pen up his right nostril.
"I closed his left nostril with my left hand and started choking him with my right hand. I kept checking him to see if he was dead. I would check his pulse on his wrist and I put my ear beside his neck and chest to hear if he was breathing. I wanted him to be dead at that time.
"I finally thought he was dead so I threw him on his bunk and covered him up. The first time I put him on the bunk he fell off. I then packed my stuff and put my mattress on the table and went to sleep."
While Owens slept, his cellmate lay dead nearby.
In March of 2002, Owens stabbed a correctional officer in the face. In June he found himself in a holding cell adjoining his former friend and co-defendant Stephen Golden.Owens' attorneys then attempted to build a case primarily to save their client's life in a death penalty state, bringing judicial attention to his violence-laden childhood and adolescence:
Golden said Owens threatened to kill him. The next time the two saw each other, Owens tried to kill him, Golden testified.
"When I went to walk by, he grabbed my belly chains, pulled me into his shower and stabbed me in the stomach," Golden said in court.
According to Golden, Owens' only comment was "gotcha."
Over the next several months, Owens continued making knives, attacking inmates, and attacking prison officers.
"Every time he assaults another guard, I submit to you that it is for his own personal entertainment," said Deputy Solicitor Betty Strom.
Judge John Kittredge described Owens' life story as a "parade of horribles."
Owens could have put his case in front of a jury, but opted to allow Kittredge decide his fate.
Under South Carolina law, Owens was allowed to make a final statement to the court.
As he began his final statement, Owens started to contradict his attorneys' case.
"I don't think (my history) played a role in my actions," Owens said.
During a statement that lasted for more than half an hour, Owens said that as a black person he came from a long line of persecuted people. He said white society created him.
"You fear me because I'm black. You fear me because I'm conscious," Owens said. "You fear me because you don't know what to do with me."
Owens said he holds a great deal of hatred toward a great many white people and that traditional laws don't intimidate him.
He said people who challenge him should be ready to defend themselves.
"If you feel that you are man enough to make a challenge toward me and disrespect me as a man, then you need to be man enough or woman enough to take the consequences that come with it," Owens said.
In the end, Owens, claims to have converted to Islam and changed his name to Kahlil Salaam, said he answers to no one but Allah.
Owens said Kittredge may judge him but the judgment is irrelevant.
"You're not my peer. They're (prosecutors) not my peer," Owens said. "They don't have anything to do with me. They don't have any common identity with me."
After a day and a half of deliberation, Kittredge decided to send Owens back to South Carolina's death row.
Kittredge described his day-and-a-half of deliberations on the sentence as "painful and agonizing."
"Mr. Owens correctly describes himself as a menace," Kittredge said in pronouncing the sentence. "He has a total and utter disregard for the rights and safety of others."
Owens' face showed no emotion as the judge read the sentence.
Listening to: Nina Simone - I Shall Be Released