She is the first woman to be executed in Georgia in 70 years – but the man who killed her husband will spend his life in prison.
Despite multiple appeals, pleas from her children and a letter from the Vatican, Kelly Renee Gissendaner was executed on Wednesday at 12:21am EDT, in Georgia Diagnostic and Classification prison in Jackson, USA. After a five-hour delay, she was administered a lethal injection for her role in the murder of her husband, Doug Gissendaner.
According to The Guardian, Gissendaner was convicted of conspiring with her boyfriend Greg Owen to have her husband killed.
In February 1997, Owen ambushed Doug Gissendaner, forcing him to drive to a remote area before stabbing him to death. Owen and Kelly Gissendaner then met up in order to burn the vehicle.
As part of a plea deal, Owen testified against Gissendaner in court. He pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. Owen will become eligible for parole in 2022.
Kelly Gissendaner was sentenced to death.
After 18 years in prison, Gissendaner was originally scheduled to be executed in February, but due to bad weather, the execution was called off. It was rescheduled for the 2nd of March, but as CNN reports, was postponed again, this time indefinitely as the lethal injection drugs were found to be “cloudy,” and did not adhere to the standards of the Department of Corrections.
Eventually, the execution was rescheduled, and on Tuesday, Gissendaner’s children paid one last visit to their mother. “We chose to try and save her life, and they still denied us,” Kayla Gissendaner told media outside the execution facility in Jackson, CNN reports.
Kayla believed her mother had undergone a transformation in her 18 years imprisonment. In an earlier statement, she stated that despite knowing her mother’s role in his murder, her father would not want Kelly Gissendaner to be executed. “He would not want us to endure another devastating loss,” she said.
Kayla and Dakota also released a video calling for public support and clemency for their mother.
You can watch that video below (post continues after video):
Dakota Gissendaner says he went through seven years of “despising” his mother. After years of refusing to visit her, Dakota went to see his mother. “I could tell something had changed,” he said. In her time in prison, Kelly Gissendaner had found solace and comforted other’s with her faith, completing a theology degree through Emory University.
The Guardian reports, after multiple denied appeals, the board of pardons and parole received a letter on behalf of Pope Francis, urging them to revoke the execution order. The execution was the first since Pope Francis delivered a speech to US Congress calling for the abolition of capital punishment. According to CNN, the letter read:
“While not wishing to minimize the gravity of the crime for which Ms. Gissendaner has been convicted, and while sympathizing with the victims, I nonetheless implore you, in consideration of the reasons that have been presented to your Board, to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy.”
As the board refused to comment, it is unclear whether or not the letter was acknowledged.
A petition was also started on Groundswell, as a last attempt to save Gissendaner’s life:
Use your power to stop the execution of Kelly Gissendaner by insisting that her sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole. She is a woman who has been profoundly transformed while in prison. Kelly is a mother, a theologian, and a pastoral figure to many.
Do not let this travesty of justice happen on your watch. Do not squander the opportunity to extend mercy.
Despite acquiring over 92,000 signatures, the petition was unsuccessful.
Kelly Gissendaner was executed by a lethal injection of pentobarbital.
She sobbed, apologising to Doug Gissendaner’s family, and thanked her lawyer Susan Casey, who witnessed the execution. According to the Associated Press, her last words were “I just want to say God bless you all and I love you, Susan. You let my kids know I went out singing Amazing Grace.”