Georgia woman spared lethal injection Monday due to drug's 'cloudy' appearance
Kelly Gissendaner would be just 16th woman put to death since 1976
Georgia postponed its first execution of a woman in 70 years late Monday, as officials cited problems with pentobarbital, the lone drug that would be used for the lethal injection.
Officials called a pharmacist and then out of an "abundance of caution" postponed the execution, said Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan. She did not give a new date.
"Within the hours leading up to the scheduled execution, the Execution Team performed the necessary checks. At that time, the drugs appeared cloudy," Hogan said in a statement.
Kelly Renee Gissendaner was scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. at the prison in Jackson for the February 1997 murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. The execution was put on hold while officials waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to either grant or deny a stay requested by her lawyers. The court had still not ruled five hours later.
An appellate court had rejected the lawyers' request for a delay on the grounds that Georgia's lethal-injection procedures aren't transparent enough to be challenged in court. Late Monday, the lawyers added additional arguments for the high court: that it should consider a stay because Gissendaner didn't kill her husband herself, and because she had been thoroughly rehabilitated.
Previously, courts had found Gissendaner had plotted the stabbing death of her husband by her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, who will be up for parole in eight years after accepting a life sentence and testifying against her.
Gissendaner would be only the 16th woman put to death nationwide since the Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume in 1976. About 1,400 men have been executed since then, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only entity authorized to commute a death sentence, denied clemency last week and upheld that decision late Monday. The woman's lawyers had urged the board to reconsider and "bestow mercy" by commuting her sentence to life without parole. The board said it voted to abide by its earlier decision after "careful consideration" of the request.
Kelly and Douglas Gissendaner had a troubled relationship, repeatedly splitting up and getting back together, divorcing and remarrying. She was a 28-year-old mother of three children, 12, 7 and 5 years old. And she had an on-again, off-again lover in Owen.
In prison, Gissendaner eventually took responsibility: Rather than divorcing her husband again, she pushed Owen to kill him. Acting on her instructions, Owen ambushed her husband while she went out dancing with friends, and forced him to drive to a remote area. Then he marched him into the woods and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said.
Testimonials from 2 of her children
Owen and Gissendaner then met up and set fire to the dead man's car in an attempted cover-up, and both initially denied involvement, but Owen eventually confessed and testified against his former girlfriend.
Her lawyers challenged the constitutionality of her sentence as disproportionate, given that she wasn't there when Owen killed her husband, and yet Owen will eventually be eligible for parole. But Georgia's Supreme Court voted 5-2 Monday to deny her motion, citing Owen's testimony that she pushed for murder rather than divorce so that she could get her husband's insurance money.
Her clemency petition already included testimonials from dozens of spiritual advisers, inmates and prison staff who described a seriously damaged woman transformed through faith behind bars. She has shown remorse and provided hope to struggling inmates while helping guards maintain control, they said.
Two of Gissendaner's three children also asked the board to spare their mother's life, describing their own emotional journey from anger and bitterness to forgiveness.