Pope Francis made an 11th-hour plea for Kelly Renee Gissendaner, but it went unheeded. Gissendaner, a 47-year-old convicted murderer on Georgia’s death row, was executed this morning. A mother of three, Gissendaner conspired with her lover to have her husband killed in 1997. Despite multiple appeals filed with the state and federal high courts – and a written entreaty on behalf of Pope Francis – Gissendaner was put to death by lethal injection at 12:21 a.m. Wednesday.
Reports ABC News on Sept. 29: “Last-minute appeals had been filed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and that state Supreme Court, all of which rejected her motions. In a 5-to-2 decision, the state Supreme Court denied Gissendaner’s motion for stay of execution and dismissed her constitutional challenge of her sentence as ‘disproportionate.’”
Back in Rome after a brief visit to the United States, Pope Francis sent a letter through the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, requesting that Gissendaner’s execution be held in abeyance.
“While not wishing to minimize the gravity of the crime for which Ms. Gissendander has been convicted, and while sympathizing with the victims, I nonetheless implore you, in consideration of the reasons that have been expressed to your board, to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy,” the letter said.
Gissendaner and her then-boyfriend, Gregory Owen, conspired to have Douglas Gissendaner killed. According to the Georgia’s Attorney General’s office, Gissendaner was found to have had formal discussions “on four or five occasions, all at [Kelly] Gissendaner’s initiation, before reaching a final agreement to kill him.”
In February of 1997, while Kelly Gissendaner was out having drinks with her friends, co-defendant Owen had agreed to carry out the killing. “The murder went exactly as Gissendaner planned,” the office of the Attorney General said. Owen knocked Douglas down and then stabbed him ten times in the neck. Owen and Kelly Renee then met and set fire to Douglas’ car.
Kelly Renee Gissendaner was found guilty of “malice murder.” The actual killer, Greg Owen, took a plea deal to testify against his former girlfriend, sparing his life. Owen currently is serving a life sentence, but will be eligible for parole in 2022.
According to USA Today, at a hearing this week Gissendaner’s attorneys “presented arguments against her execution to Georgia’s parole board, saying the death penalty is disproportionate to the crime since Gissendaner was not the ‘trigger person’ in her husband’s death.”
Attorneys for Kelly Renee also presented the judge with written and video testimonials from other inmates stating what a positive influence Gissendaner has been on them while incarcerated. Two of Gissendaner’s three children also asked that their mother’s life be spared.
Gissendaner was due to be executed twice already this year – once in February but a winter storm prevented the execution, and again in March but the lethal drug appeared “cloudy” because it had been stored at an incorrect temperature.
Gissendaner, whose requested last meal consisted of cheese dip with chips, Texas fajita nachos and a diet frosted lemonade, apologized to the family of Douglas Gissendaner. To her lawyer Susan Casey, Gissendaner said: “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, according to Associated Press.
During his papal visit, Pope Francis called on the US Congress to abolish the death penalty. Kelly Renee Gissendaner was the only woman on death row in Georgia; she’s the first woman to be executed in the state in 70 years.