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.

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