The group rallied on the corner of Haynes Street and Lawrence Street to draw attention to what they called an unjust use of the three-strikes law designed to levy harsh prison sentences on habitual offenders.
Friends and family were protesting the 30-year sentence given nearly seven years ago to Marciael Owens, 42, who attended Marietta High School in the early 1990s.
Marciael Owens is serving prison time at Lee Arrendale Correctional Institution in Alto for what her supporters call a nonviolent crime.
According to Cobb Superior Court records, Owens previously faced charges of violating Georgia’s Controlled Substances Act.
For arrests in 1992, 1996 and 1997, all charges were dropped. But Owens pleaded no contest to felony drug charges in 1993, pleaded guilty to felony drug charges, possession of a firearm and reckless conduct in 2001, and pleaded guilty to attempting to elude a police officer and battery in 2006.
The arrest that led to Owens serving a long prison term for the first time, according to the warrant, was for instances investigated from December 2007 to January 2008.
After waiving her right to a jury trial, Marciael Owens pleaded guilty to six counts of drug offenses, including possession, selling and trafficking of cocaine.
She also pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence by concealing cocaine in the ceiling of the police interview room and marijuana in a body cavity, according to the court records.
In August 2008, Owens was sentenced to 40 years, with 30 years in prison and 10 years of probation.
According to the plea agreement signed by both Owens and her attorney, Jim Berry, she could have been sentenced to a maximum of five life sentences or a minimum of 10 years.
Family takes issue to the streets
Originally, the protesters were outside the Superior Court of Cobb County building, but they were told to move across the street in front of the Marietta City Hall because the group did not have a permit.
“We are trying to get somebody to listen to this case,” said Addie Owens, Marciael Owens’ mother, who now lives in Powder Springs after raising six children in Marietta.
One of Marciael Owens’ older brothers, Derrick Owens, 45, said he graduated from Marietta High School in 1988 and now lives in Powder Springs.
Derrick Owens said his sister has paid enough time “by far” after six and a half years.
“The sentence that they gave her is completely overkill,” Derrick Owens said. “We are hoping somebody inside the building will hear our voices and reduce her sentence. “Marciael Owens, also listed as “Big Bonnie,” was represented by four defense lawyers, including Vic Reynolds, who now serves as the Cobb district attorney. Judge Mary E. Staley, who was elected superior court judge in 1992, presided over the case.
According to the Cobb District Attorney’s office, Marciael Owens was a repeat offender with three prior felony convictions.
As a recidivist, Marciael Owens was given a tough sentence. Georgia state law also requires a repeat offender not be eligible for parole.
Because of the second part of the statute, “whatever sentence you are given, you serve every day of it,” said Kim Isaza, spokeswoman for the Cobb District Attorney’s Office.
A mother and son split apart
Marciael Owens has one child, an 18-year-old boy, who she will not see graduate this spring from McEachern High School.
“It is a hardship on her. It is a hardship on him and all of us as a family,” said Addie Owens. “Besides the fact that it is unjust.”
Addie Owens said her daughter is trying to instill good, “old-fashioned” values in the young man.
“She is raising her son on the phone,” Addie Owens said, except when he is able to visit his mother every other weekend during scheduled visitation.
Addie Owens, who has medical issues, said the hour-and-a-half drive each way is too much for her.
Eric Owens, twin brother of Derrick Owens, played basketball, football and ran track while attending Marietta High School.
He said the family never expected his sister to get anywhere near 30 years in prison.
While she is locked up, Eric Owens said, “I tell her I love her and we are trying to do everything we can.”
Marciael Owens knew about the protest planned for Wednesday afternoon, and Eric Owens said she is happy for the support many inmates do not receive.
Eric Owens said it is hard that his daughter, Erial, 10, who was at the protest, “barely knows her aunt.”
So he shares how much fun he used to have with Marciael Owens, who Eric Owens admits “wasn’t a saint.”
Eric Owens said he does feel a conflict living in Cobb and being active in the community while still feeling victimized by the county.
For instance, on Wednesday night Eric Owens was acknowledged by the Marietta City Council for taking a young girls basketball team affiliated with the Cobb County Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department to the state championship game.
“To me, it feels like a stab in the back,” Eric Owens said.