Georgia Mom's Execution Delayed After 70,000 Petition To Save Her [Update]

Photo: Louie Favorite/AP Images.
The execution of Kelly Gissendaner was delayed Monday night, after the medication prepared for her lethal injection looked "cloudy." Gissendaner, a 46-year-old mother of three, was convicted of recruiting another man, her then-lover, to stab her husband to death in 1997. Tens of thousands of people joined in signing a petition on Monday in a last-minute effort to keep Kelly alive.

If the execution is carried out, Kelly will be the first woman executed by the state of Georgia in more than 70 years. Gregory Owen, her lover, who killed Doug Gissendaner almost 20 years ago, received a life sentence and will be eligible for parole in about eight years.

According to her supporters, Kelly is a prison role model and source of strength, wisdom, and spiritual guidance for other inmates. In 2011, she graduated from an Emory University program for incarcerated women, earning a certificate from the Candler School of Theology, where she subsequently became a teacher; she continues to correspond with theologians beyond the prison’s walls. 

Clergy, former wardens, other prisoners, friends, and family members — including Kelly's three adult children — have begged for the state to spare her life, to no avail: Her clemency appeal was denied last week. In it, Gissendaner said she took full responsibility for her role in her husband’s death. Her legal team has long argued that because Kelly didn’t commit the actual killing, she should receive an equal or lesser punishment than Owen's life sentence.

But, while both defendants were offered plea deals (life in prison, plus an agreement not to seek parole for 25 years) before the trial began, Gissendaner’s attorney says that, at the time, he couldn’t see a jury convicting a woman for a crime she didn’t physically commit. “I should have pushed her to take the plea, but did not because I thought we would get straight-up life if she was convicted,” he said. 

While Georgia officials made no mention of the protests and petition when they decided to hold off on the execution, those efforts have undoubtedly helped bring Gissendaner's case into the spotlight. After a botched execution in Oklahoma (where a man, writhing in pain, had to be resuscitated only to die of a heart attack) last year, there's been increased attention paid to whether execution drugs are working correctly and painlessly. 

This is the second postponement of Gissendaner's execution date (an earlier date was delayed due to weather), and a new date has not been set. 

This piece was originally published at 4:45 p.m. on March 2, 2015 and updated on March 3 at 9:00 a.m.
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