Owens’ sentence reduced from 95 years to 25 years

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By Susan Sharp

If Tommy Owens wasn’t a believer in the adage, “Good things come to those who wait,” after last week he may be a convert.

Fifteen months after his case was argued before the state court of criminal appeals, an opinion that reduced Owens’ sentence by 70 years was handed down.

Just days before Christmas, the three justice panel ruled that the 95-year sentence given to Owens should be modified. After his 2005 conviction on three counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of aggravated child neglect, Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton sentenced Owens to serve 25 years for each of the first three counts along with 20 years on the neglect conviction. Sexton then ordered the time be served consecutively making Owens’ effective sentence 95 years.

However, the appeals court reversed Sexton’s decision on how Owens would serve his time behind bars. The panel remarked that while Owens did have a criminal history, it was “scant.” Taking note that Sexton cited that there were findings that supported that Owens’ crimes had a high risk to human life, meaning the life of his daughter Haley Spicer, the opinion said he still didn’t qualify as a “dangerous offender.”

Although Owens did have an assault conviction and the injuries inflicted on Spicer were severe the justices said he didn’t appear to be a danger to the public but “to his own family.” Concurring with the local court that the offenses on which Owens was convicted were “appalling,” under the law they didn’t justify consecutive sentencing, the court record said.

Of the many injuries that Spicer suffered the one that some would deem most noticeable was the damage caused to her nose. During the trial, Aletha Mattie testified she saw Spicer in a vehicle with her father and his then girlfriend Charlotte Claiborne at a LaFollette store. From the witness stand, Mattie said on that day she noticed Spicer’s nose was “busted” and bleeding. The child’s eyes were also beginning to turn black, she said. In her estimation, the injury had just occurred because Spicer’s nose was still bleeding.

Owens had been convicted by a Campbell County jury of having an active part in this injury.

When the case was argued in front of the appeals court, prosecutors said Owens was criminally responsible for the injured nose. While criminal responsibility is not a crime on its own, to be convicted in that capacity carries the same weight as those who committed the crime or it would have put Owens in the role of “a principal offender” even if he had not actively taken part in the injury to his daughter’s nose.

 In the written opinion the justices said there was evidence to support that Owens was aware of the injuries to his daughter’s face. However, when considering the indictment and timeline presented by prosecutors, the nose injury was Owens’ first knowledge of Spicer’s ongoing abuse. In order to be held criminally responsible, he would have had to known Claiborne was abusing his daughter prior to her nose being maimed, the opinion said. And there was not evidence to that affect, therefore, Owens could not be held accountable for the child abuse conviction as it related to his daughter’s nose. In essence, that conviction was reversed and dismissed taking 25 years off his sentence.

But the two other child abuse convictions were not reversed.

In the appeals court’s opinion, it was noted that Owens testified he saw his daughter’s mangled ear but failed to seek medical treatment for her. Regarding the injuries to her eyes, the justices said testimony from the trial indicated Owens also knew of these injuries.

With the reversal of one of the charges and Owens’ method of how he will serve his punishment altered, his 95 year sentence was reduced to a 25 year sentence.

And while these portions of the conviction were modified, other elements of the appeal went in favor of the local court.

Steve Hurst, Owens’ attorney, had argued that there were too many photographs of Spicer’s injuries used during the 2005 trial. The introduction of multiple images being used had a prejudicial effect on the jury, Hurst said.

The panel disagreed.

In the written opinion the justices said using the photographs “was relevant to show the extent of injuries” and to demonstrate that Owens couldn’t have been oblivious to them. Using only witness testimony or a doctor’s description “would not have been sufficient,” court records said.

The justices further noted that Sexton had held a pre- trial hearing, issuing a separate ruling for each photograph of Spicer and excluding some as well.

Under state law Owens will have to serve 100- percent of his sentence due to nature of his convictions.

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