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September 30, 2015

Georgia finally completes execution of female murderer

As reported in this NBC News article, headlined "Georgia Woman Kelly Gissendaner Sings 'Amazing Grace' During Execution," a flurry of last-minute appeals did not prevent the Peach State from finally carrying out a high-profile execution. Here are the basics:

A Georgia woman who was executed despite a plea for mercy from Pope Francis sang "Amazing Grace" until she was given a lethal injection, witnesses said. Kelly Renee Gissendaner, who graduated from a theology program in prison, was put to death at 12:21 a.m. Wednesday after a flurry of last-minute appeals failed.

Gissendaner, who was sentenced to death for the 1997 stabbing murder of her husband at the hands of her lover, sobbed as she called the victim an "amazing man who died because of me." She was the first woman executed in Georgia in 70 years and one of a handful of death-row inmates who were executed even though they did not physically partake in a murder.

The mother of three was nearly executed in February, but the lethal injection was abruptly called off because the chemicals appeared cloudy. After a new execution date was set, Gissendaner, 47, convinced the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider her application for clemency.

In an extraordinary turn, Pope Francis — who called for a global ban on the death penalty during his U.S. visit last week — urged the board to spare her life. "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," Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano wrote on the pontiff's behalf.

Shortly thereafter, the board announced that it would not stop the execution.

The victim's family was split on whether Gissendaner should live or die: Her children appeared before the parole board to ask that their mom be spared the death chamber, but her husband's relatives said she did not deserve clemency. "Kelly planned and executed Doug's murder. She targeted him and his death was intentional," Douglas Gissendaner's loved ones said in a written statement.

"In the last 18 years, our mission has been to seek justice for Doug's murder and to keep his memory alive. We have faith in our legal system and do believe that Kelly has been afforded every right that our legal system affords. 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. His life was not hers to take."

In the hours before her death, Gissendaner pressed a number of appeals, arguing that it was not fair she got death while the lover who killed her husband got a life sentence. She also said the execution drugs might be defective, and that she had turned her life around and found religion while in prison....

Jeff Hullinger, a journalist with NBC station WXIA who witnessed the execution, later told reporters that Gissendaner appeared "very, very emotional, I was struck by that." He added: "She was crying and then she was sobbing and then broke into song as well as into a number of apologies ... When she was not singing, she was praying."

September 30, 2015 at 08:24 AM | Permalink


Two points:

1) The state should have zapped her in the absence of a stay--the delay was unseemly.

2) The press is now swallowing the Kool-Aid: "She was the first woman executed in Georgia in 70 years and one of a handful of death-row inmates who were executed even though they did not physically partake in a murder." People who compensate others to do the dirty work or who convince others to do their dirty work have traditionally been excluded from the "non-triggermen are less culpable" argument. This was a planned murder by an evil woman who got what she deserved.

One down; two to go.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 30, 2015 9:05:30 AM

And I don't see anything extraordinary about a pope coming out against an execution, they've been doing that for years and we've been ignoring them just as long. Same story, different day.

Also, I can see arguments for going after the person who paid for a murder in preference to someone who carried it out. The person who carried it out most likely would not have committed that particular crime without the impetus of the hiring party.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 30, 2015 9:19:31 AM

Plus, in this case, the triggerman pled, and that tends to be a mitigant.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 30, 2015 9:32:37 AM

If the press wants a story, perhaps they should report about the last woman Georgia executed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lena_Baker

The press simply reported the facts there. It didn't say "it was WRONG" ... it reported that it was unusual. It would be useful to actually have numbers here -- how many people are we talking about who did something like what she did and got executed.

Something being rare doesn't mean the individual execution was wrong necessarily. Planned murders happen. What murder isn't "evil"? Only a few result in executions. How many times did something like this lead to an execution? The public can judge for themselves with all the facts. I don't see much "kool aid" here.

As to delays, they have occurred for some time. Before the actual execution, there were often delays including before 1972. Often an execution was commuted or a person pardoned. A lot of petitioning to the king or whatever was made. And, various people were upset. They wanted more executions. Nothing much new really.

Finally, looking at the facts, "triggerman" is a bit misleading. The boyfriend - not just a random contract killer -- beat and stabbed the victim. I also don't know whose idea this was. Was it just hers? Did they both have equal part in planning the whole thing? Sorry for the verbiage here, but brief supposition seems problematic to me. Bottom line, he got LWOP because he pled guilty and testified. She was offer a plea and turned it down. How essential him testifying is unclear.

No need to cry too much for someone who helped to kill her husband but we don't execute too many people & bottom line punishment as handed out to the person who carried out the murder directly would have been punishment enough. That is how most "evil" murderers in this country and elsewhere are handled.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 30, 2015 10:03:46 AM

Joe, you are obtuse. Not surprising, but tedious nonetheless. Traditionally, the whine has been that "triggermen" (i.e., those whose hand does the killing) are more culpable etc. and so therefore executing non-triggermen is somehow arbitrary etc. One big exception to this were the situations where someone paid another to do the dirty work (whether pure contract or split proceeds of death benefits). Even the DP"I"C recognized that it was untenable to include contracting persons as less culpable:

"We list below the cases that we are aware of in which the defendant was found guilty of felony murder. We separately list the cases in which the person executed contracted to have the victim killed, though these cases do not fit under the class of felony murder and are not meant to imply less culpability. We welcome any additions or corrections to these lists."

By eliding the distinction between the two issues, the press is swallowing whole what even the DP"I"C won't even say.

In any event, nothing you have said has shown that Gissendaner's execution was all that rare (you'd need to know the number of death-eligible contract killings) when compared to the general low percentage of death-eligible murders that wind up with death sentences.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 30, 2015 12:37:20 PM

Traditionally, the argument has been ... fixed that for you w/o "whining" about how "obtuse" or "tedious" people are.

Again, the press is not saying the execution is wrong here -- it is saying only "a handful" is involved. Nothing you said really changes that from what I can tell. The "kool aid" reference amounts to supposition that it was trying to imply something the mere words do not necessarily imply. Finally, noted having all the numbers would be useful, but "all that rare" depends on your terms. It still very well can be a "mere handful" in raw numbers. Which again is all that it said without putting some gloss on it.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 30, 2015 1:17:07 PM

Joe, are you really this obtuse? The issue isn't whether the press report can be defended as literally true--it's whether it gives an intelligent reader presumed to know nothing an accurate picture.

The message behind the "gee this is rare" is that the fact that Gissendaner didn't actually kill her husband is somehow mitigating--hence the use of the "even though" construction. (Remember, way back in your remedial English class, the difference between denotation and connotation??) Perhaps that's true in the felony murder scenario, but it is distinctly not true in these circumstances, something which even DPIC acknowledges. There's a message here from the press (which has harped upon Gissendaner's non-triggerman status), and you're either too stupid to see it or you just want to be argumentative.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 30, 2015 3:24:32 PM

The sun shines brighter and Oklahoma is a safer place.

Posted by: claudio giusti | Sep 30, 2015 5:34:41 PM

To me it is disappointing to see any User A address any User B , using ad hominem remarks .

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady „ the Nemo Me ☺ Impune Lacessit guy in Oregon ‼ | Oct 1, 2015 9:36:02 AM

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