On Tuesday a parole board once again denied clemency for the only woman on Georgia’s death row, making her one step closer to being the first woman executed by the state in seven decades. 47 year old Kelly Renee Gissendaner is scheduled to die by injection at the state prison in Jackson.
Gissendaner was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband, after conspiring with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death. A reason for the denial was not given by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles after it met on Tuesday, saying only that it had carefully considered her request for reconsideration.
February 25th was Gissendaner’s previously scheduled execution date but that was delayed due to a threat of winter weather. Her execution was then reset for March 2nd, however corrections officials postponed that execution “out of an abundance of caution” because the execution drug appeared “cloudy.”
After a clemency hearing in February the parole board, which is the only entity in Georgia authorized to commute a death sentence, also declined to spare Gissendaner’s life. Last Thursday Gissendaner’s lawyers submitted a second request to reconsider the denial of clemency, however on Monday the parole board said that that the request was thoroughly reviewed by its members.
According to the board the meeting Tuesday would allow it to gather additional information from representatives for Gissendaner. On Tuesday Pope Francis’ diplomatic representative in the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, sent a letter to the parole board on behalf of the pontiff asking for a commutation of Gissendaner’s sentence “to one that would better express both justice and mercy.”
Earlier this year two of Gissendaner’s three children already asked the board to spare their mother’s life. Susan Casey, an attorney for Gissendaner said her oldest child, Brandon, who had not previously addressed the board, wanted to make a plea for his mother’s life.
In the request for reconsideration of her execution, Gissendaner’s lawyers cited a statement from former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher, who argued that Gissendaner’s death sentence was not proportionate to her role in the crime. Gissendaner’s lover, Gregory Owen, who did the killing, is serving a life prison sentence and will become eligible for parole in 2022.
In a statement Monday Douglas Gissendaner’s family said “As the murderer, she’s been given more rights and opportunity over the last 18 years than she ever afforded to Doug who, again, is the victim here. She had no mercy, gave him no rights, no choices, nor the opportunity to live his life.”
Prosecutors have said in late 1996 Kelly Gissendaner repeatedly coerced Owen to kill her husband instead of just divorcing him as Owen suggested. According to prosecutors Owen then ambushed Douglas Gissendaner at Gissendaner’s home, forced him to drive to a remote area and stabbed him multiple times.
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