Georgia executes US state’s only woman on death row
The only woman on Georgia’s death row was executed early Wednesday, making her the first woman executed in the southern U.S. state in seven decades.
Kelly Renee Gissendaner was pronounced dead by injection of pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson. She was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband after she conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death.
Gissendaner, 47, sobbed as she said she loved her children and apologized to Douglas Gissendaner’s family, saying she hopes they can find some peace and happiness. She also addressed her lawyer, Susan Casey.
“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,’” Gissendaner said.
Gissendaner sang “Amazing Grace” and also appeared to sing another song before taking several deep breaths and then becoming still.
More than 100 people gathered in rainy conditions outside the prison to support Gissendaner. Among them was Rev. Della Bacote, a chaplain at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville and who spent several hours with Gissendaner on Tuesday afternoon, talking and praying.
“She was at peace with whatever was to come,” Bacote said.
Gissendaner’s three children visited with her Monday but weren’t able to see her Tuesday because they were testifying before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, Bacote said.
Two of Gissendaner’s three children had previously addressed the board and also put out a video earlier this month pleading for their mother’s life and talking about their own difficult path to forgiveness. Her oldest son had not previously addressed the board.
Various courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court denied multiple last-ditch efforts to stop her execution Tuesday, and the parole board stood by its February decision to deny clemency.
Pope Francis’ diplomatic representative in the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, on Tuesday 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.” He cited an address the pope made to a joint session of Congress last week in which he called for the abolition of the death penalty.
Gissendaner’s lawyers also submitted a statement from former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher to the parole board. Fletcher argued Gissendaner’s death sentence was not proportionate to her role in the crime. Her lover, Gregory Owen, who did the killing, is serving a life prison sentence and will become eligible for parole in 2022. He also noted that Georgia hadn’t executed a person who didn’t actually carry out a killing since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Gissendaner’s lawyers also said she was a seriously damaged woman who has undergone a spiritual transformation in prison and has been a model prisoner who has shown remorse.
But Douglas Gissendaner’s family said in a statement that he is the victim and that Kelly Gissendaner received an appropriate sentence.
Dawn Skorcik, left, of Marietta, Georgia, and Dawn Barber, of Powder Springs comfort each other while protesting outside of Georgia Diagnostic Prison in Jackson, Tuesday evening, Sept. 29, before the execution of Kelly Gissendaner.