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UPDATE: Ex-Senate candidate Owens pleads guilty to multiple charges

February 3rd, 2014 12:47 pm by Becky Campbell

UPDATE: Ex-Senate candidate Owens pleads guilty to multiple charges

T.K. Owens and his attorney in court Monday morning. (Photo by Becky Campbell)


A former U.S. Senate candidate testified at a hearing Monday that he was not taking his medication for a bipolar disorder when he solicited a minor for sex and had an “out-of-body experience” during the 2011 incident.


Thomas Kenneth “T.K.” Owens pleaded guilty to one count of solicitation of a minor to commit attempted sexual battery and one count of solicitation of first-degree murder.


The solicitation of a minor charge stems from his arrest in May 2011 after a 7-year-old girl’s mother told officials that Owens had invited the girl into his apartment to get a “twisty tie” ring he made.


The girl told her mother Owens gave her the ring and asked for a hug. After she hugged him, she said he unzipped his pants and exposed himself to her and asked her if she wanted to perform an inappropriate act. The girl told Owens she had to go home to finish her chores. She then ran home.


Owens was charged with solicitation to commit first-degree murder in August after he tried to hire someone to kill his uncle, who is a a part-time Carter County Sheriff’s deputy and full-time minister at Zion Faith Center in Johnson City.


Last year, an informant came to the sheriff’s office with information that Owens was looking to pay someone to kill Ernest Widby. That led to a meeting in Johnson City where Owens connected with another individual — who was working undercover — and handed over $500 as a down payment for the $2,500 hit.


Owens brought a picture of Widby as well as his home address to the meeting in the parking lot of Bailey’s Sports Bar. Owens was arrested after the payment was made.


Owens pleaded guilty under an Alford plea, which means he is not admitting to committing the criminal acts, but recognizes the prosecution’s evidence would likely persuade a judge or jury to find him guilty.


The plea agreement approved by a judge in Washington County Criminal Court on Monday said Owens will serve four years behind bars on the sexual battery charge and eight years of probation for solicitation of first-degree murder. Owens will also be required to be on the sex offender registry for 10 years.


Owens must serve the four-year sentence, but will be eligible for parole after he serves 30 percent of it.


When questioned by his attorney, David Robbins, about where he might live after being released, Owens he could go to his mother’s in Kansas, his younger brother’s home near Atlanta or his older brother’s home in Washington County.


On cross examination by Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks, Owens seemed surprised to learn he’d been diagnosed with delusional disorder.


“I wasn’t aware of that,” Owens said. “It scares me … things I think are really happening could be a delusion.”


He acknowledged going through periods of time when he did not take his bipolar medication as prescribed and also said when he became depressed or anxious he often checked himself into a hospital. He did that in February 2013 and was again placed on medication. He apparently took his meds until around June or July. He was free on bond at the time awaiting trial on the Carter County case.


Owens’ explanation of what happened in his cases became confusing at times, as did his reasons for not taking his medications, which ranged from them making him feel “droggy” to not being able to afford the co-pay.


When explaining the incidents involving the young girl, Owens said, “I had no control over the events that took place,” and that he had an “out-of-body” experience as if he was watching what was going on instead of participating in it.


Owens also said he believes Widby has broken into his apartment and rearranged things, has killed a man and plans to kill again, namely him.


“I’m on a short list of people he would like to see in a casket,” Owens testified. But he also said that even though he told the undercover operative “you might have to pop him,” and paid the man $500, he didn’t mean to kill Widby.


Owens said he only wanted someone to look into what he believed was Widby’s intention to kill him.


Brooks asked Owens if those thoughts could be a result of a delusional disorder with which he’s been diagnosed.


Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood seemed frustrated at times when he asked Owens questions about the bipolar diagnosis, his medication and things he thought were going on around him.


Owens said he didn’t like to take medication, but he also realized his actions were unpredictable while off his medication.


“Do you realize it might not have happened if you had been on your meds?” Blackwood asked. “Yes,” Owens said.


“It never occurred to you at all that maybe you should go see somebody to get back on (medications)?” Blackwood said.


“It may have occurred to me,” Owens said.


“But you didn’t do anything about it?” Blackwood asked.


“No, I didn’t,” Owens acknowledged.


He said he understands now that he should have taken action.


“I was afraid,” he said.


In ruling that Owens would serve four years in jail, then be on probation for eight years, Blackwood said Owens is in the category of defendants he doesn’t understand because “if you’re not on your medication, you’re a danger to society.”


He said Owens was lucky the man he talked to about killing Widby was a former officer and not someone who would have done the job for the $500.


Blackwood also warned Owens of what he might face in prison.


“You’re going to come out of the pen a little more angry, a little more delusional. … You’re going to be a changed man. You’re fixing to go to a party you don’t want to be invited to,” he said.


As part of Owens’ probation, Blackwood ordered him to maintain mental health therapy and take his medications as prescribed.


“If you don’t, you’re going to go back to that hellhole again,” Blackwood said. 

Earlier version of this story

A former U.S. Senate candidate has entered an Alford plea to charges stemming from two unrelated incidents.

Thomas Kenneth "T.K." Owens has entered the plea on one count of solicitation of a minor to commit attempted sexual battery and one count of solicitation of first degree murder.

The solicitation of a minor charge stems from his arrest in May 2011 after a 7-year-old girl’s mother told officials that Owens had invited her into his apartment to get a “twisty tie” ring he made.

The girl told her mother Owens gave her the ring and asked for a hug. After she hugged him, she said he unzipped his pants and exposed himself to her and asked her if she wanted to perform an inappropriate act. The girl told Owens she had to go home to finish her chores. She then ran home.

In August 2013,  Owens was charged with solicitation to commit first-degree murder after he tried to hire someone to kill his uncle, who is a a part-time Carter County Sheriff's deputy and full-time minister at Zion Faith Center in Johnson City.

Last year, an informant came to the sheriff’s office with information that Owens was looking to pay someone to kill Ernie Widby. That led to a meeting in Johnson City where Owens connected with another individual — who was working undercover for the operation — and handed over $500 as a down payment for the $2,500 hit.

Owens brought a picture of the intended victim of the murder plot as well as his home address to the meeting in the parking lot of Bailey’s Sports Bar. Owens was arrested after the payment was made.

An Alford plea means Owens is not admitting to committing the criminal acts, but recognizes the prosecution's evidence would likely persuade a judge or jury to find him guilty.

According to the agreement made in Washington County Criminal Court on Monday, Owens will serve four years behind bars on the sexual battery charge and eight years of probation for the solicitation of first degree murder. Owens will also be required to be on the sex offender registry for 10 years.

Keep checking JohnsonCityPress.com for more details on Owens' plea agreement.

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