Chicago Tribune
Dec. 23, 1988

2 Women Who Killed Spouses To Be Set Free

By Rob Karwath.

Thursday was a day for singing carols and exchanging gifts for women prisoners at the Dwight Correctional Center, but two inmates received the best Christmas gift of all—their freedom.

Gladys Gonzalez and Leslie Brown, two 35-year-old Chicago women convicted of arranging the murders of their abusive husbands, learned from their lawyers that Gov. James Thompson had commuted their sentences to time served.

Both will leave the prison on Friday.

Gonzalez has served almost 9 years of a 40-year sentence and Brown has served nearly 7 years of a 20-year sentence.

Word that the women were coming home answered prayers of relatives and friends, who have urged state officials to release Gonzalez and Brown. They contend that only the severe abuse the women suffered drove them to arrange their husbands' deaths.

''The family is so happy that she'll be coming home,'' said Brown's mother, Ollie Johnson, 55, who has cared for Brown's six children, ages 7 to 18, while her daughter has been in prison. ''It's a beautiful Christmas present.''
Brown's lawyer, Margaret Byrne, said that when she gave Brown the news over the phone, ''she was very happy. She had just been caroling with a number of other prisoners. She said she knew Gladys didn't know yet because they were caroling together.''

Gonzalez's lawyer, Stephen Morrill, said that when he called the prison, Warden Jane Huch said the day already had been ''emotional'' for Gonzalez.

''She is part of a support group down there for incarcerated mothers, and they were having a Christmas party for some of the children of the other mothers,'' Morrill said.

The party was a most poignant reminder for Gonzalez of how much she misses her daughter, 15, and son, 13, Morrill said.
But, he said, ''When I told her of the governor's decision, she thanked me and said, 'It will be a merry Christmas.' ''
Sen. Thaddeus ''Ted'' Lechowicz (D., Chicago), who last June persuaded a Senate committee to approve a resolution asking Thompson to commute Gonzalez's sentence, said: ''There are a lot of people who have helped on this. It's a good Christmas for a lot of people.''

In his order, Thompson said, ''I have decided that no good purpose would be served-that justice would not be served-by keeping Gladys Gonzalez and Leslie Brown in prison.''

Thompson said evidence presented at separate hearings before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board ''indicates unequivocally that Mrs. Gonzalez and Mrs. Brown were . . . wives of men who over a number of years physically, emotionally and mentally brutalized them.

''These facts do not relieve Mrs. Gonzalez or Mrs. Brown from the responsibility of their actions, but they do explain their motives. I believe the people of the State of Illinois would agree that they have already paid a high price for their actions.''

Gonzalez was convicted in 1981 of murder, solicitation and conspiracy for paying two men $800 to kill her husband, Victor, to whom she had been married since 1972. The men lured Victor Gonzalez to a secluded spot in suburban River Grove and shot him, Morrill said.

Morrill said that Gonzalez's husband was ''brutal'' and that Gonzalez felt ''helpless'' in the marriage. The couple lived on the Northwest Side.

''He threatened to kill her, held a gun to her head in front of the children, pushed her down stairs when she was 5 1/2 months pregnant-and the list literally goes on and on,'' Morrill said.

Brown was convicted in 1983 of murder and solicitation for hiring a man to kill her husband of 8 years, Clarence, by shooting him, Byrne and Johnson said. The couple lived on the West Side.

''From the time they were married until his death, he beat her numerous times-severely,'' Byrne said. ''Numerous times she was in the hospital. He threatened her with guns and knives many times. She called the police many times.''

Since the killings, Thompson said, the General Assembly has passed and he has signed into law the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, designed to provide protection, counseling and shelter to victims of domestic violence.
''If the act had been in effect at the times of their crimes, they and their victims might have been spared,'' Thompson said.