Execution Delayed for Kelly Gissendaner Due to Last-Minute Motions
ATLANTA (AP) - The United States Supreme Court has denied a third appeal for Kelly Renee Gissendaner.
Gissendaner, the states only woman on death row, was scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m. on Tuesday but her lawyers filed a flurry of appeals with the high courts of both Georgia and the U.S.
The 47-year-old was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband. She conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declined Gissendaner clemency earlier on Tuesday.
Parole Board Denies Motion
Earlier in the day, a parole board on Tuesday once again denied clemency for the only woman on Georgia's death row, putting her one step closer to being the first woman executed by the state in seven decades.
Kelly Renee Gissendaner is scheduled to die by injection of pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson. Gissendaner, 47, was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband. She conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles did not give a reason for its denial after it met on Tuesday, saying only that it had carefully considered her request for reconsideration.
Gissendaner was previously scheduled for execution Feb. 25, but that was delayed because of a threat of winter weather. Her execution was reset for March 2, but corrections officials postponed that execution "out of an abundance of caution" because the execution drug appeared "cloudy."
The parole board, which is the only entity in Georgia authorized to commute a death sentence, also declined to spare Gissendaner's life after a clemency hearing in February. Her lawyers asked the board to reconsider its decision before the second execution date, but the board stood by its decision to deny clemency.
Gissendaner's lawyers last Thursday submitted a second request to reconsider the denial of clemency. The parole board said Monday that its members have thoroughly reviewed that request. The board said the meeting Tuesday would allow it to gather additional information from representatives for Gissendaner.
The board could have let its earlier denial of clemency stand, issued a stay of up to 90 days to further consider the case, or granted clemency and commuted her sentence.
The board did not give a reason for its denial, saying only that it had carefully considered her request for reconsideration.
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.
Two of Gissendaner's three children already asked the board earlier this year to spare their mother's life. Her oldest child, Brandon, who had not previously addressed the board, wanted to make a plea for his mother's life, said Susan Casey, an attorney for Gissendaner.
In the request for reconsideration, Gissendaner's lawyers cite a statement from former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher, who argues that Gissendaner's death sentence is 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.
Fletcher said he has now decided he was wrong in voting to deny Gissendaner's appeal in 2000 when he sat on the state Supreme Court, the statement says. He also notes that Georgia hasn'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 argued she was a seriously damaged woman has undergone a spiritual transformation in prison and has been a model prisoner who has shown remorse and provided hope to other inmates in their personal struggles. The new request included testimony from several women who were locked up as teens and who said Gissendaner counseled them through moments when they felt scared, lost or on the verge of giving up hope.
Two of her three children, Dakota and Kayla, previously addressed the board and earlier this month released a video pleading for their mother's life to be spared. They detailed their own journeys to forgiving her and said they would suffer terribly from having a second parent taken from them.
Douglas Gissendaner's family said in a statement Monday that he is the victim and that Kelly Gissendaner received an appropriate sentence.
"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," the statement says. "She had no mercy, gave him no rights, no choices, nor the opportunity to live his life."
Kelly Gissendaner repeatedly pushed Owen in late 1996 to kill her husband rather than just divorcing him as Owen suggested, prosecutors have said. Acting on her instructions, Owen ambushed Douglas Gissendaner at Gissendaner's home, forced him to drive to a remote area and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said.
Investigators looking into the killing zeroed in on Owen once they learned of his affair with Kelly Gissendaner. He initially denied involvement but eventually confessed and implicated Kelly Gissendaner.
Appeals Court Denies Stay for Gissendaner
Gissendaner is set for execution by injection of pentobarbital at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the state prison in Jackson. She was previously scheduled to die March 2, but state officials called off the execution "out of an abundance of caution" after noticing that the execution drug was "cloudy."
Gerald King, a lawyer for Gissendaner, asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash on Monday to temporarily halt her execution and reconsider his dismissal of a complaint Gissendaner filed in March. Thrash denied the request, saying Gissendaner was not likely to prevail in her arguments. He later issued an order denying her request to reconsider his dismissal of her case.
King said he plans to appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Gissendaner was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. Prosecutors said she conspired with her lover, Gregory Owen, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death. Owen, who took a plea deal and testified against Gissendaner, is serving life in prison and will become eligible for parole in 2022.
After the problem with the execution drug surfaced, Georgia corrections officials temporarily suspended executions until an analysis could be done.
In mid-April they released lab reports, a sworn statement from a pharmacological expert hired by the state and a short video showing a syringe of clear liquid with chunks of a white solid floating in the solution. Corrections officials said the expert concluded the chunks probably formed because the solution was shipped and stored at a temperature that was too low.
In a June court filing, the department revealed that it did its own test on a new batch of pentobarbital made by the same compounding pharmacist who made the drug meant for Gissendaner's execution.
The Department of Corrections' chief of special projects stored one sample in a refrigerator at 34 degrees and one in a room where the temperature fluctuated between 67 degrees and 72 degrees for 11 days, from March 24 to April 3. No changes were recorded in either sample. Both started and ended as clear liquid with no solids.
That test "leaves us with no understanding of why the drugs precipitated," King said, adding that there's no reason to think the drug won't precipitate again Tuesday. The state plans to use the same compounding pharmacist and the same execution protocol and there's no evidence additional safeguards have been put in place, King said.
The state has done everything it can to ensure that the problem won't happen again, and state officials would not proceed if a problem was detected, argued Sabrina Graham, a lawyer for the state.
Gissendaner's lawyers have also released statements from high-profile figures, including former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher and former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr, arguing that Gissendaner shouldn't be executed because her death sentence is disproportionate since Owen, who actually did the killing, got a life sentence and will be eligible for parole in seven years.
In a statement released through the Gwinnett County district attorney's office, which prosecuted the case, Douglas Gissendaner's family said he is the victim and that Kelly Gissendaner planned the murder and received a just punishment from a jury of her peers.