Hours Before This Woman's Execution, Her Children Fight For Her Life

Photo: Bita Honarvar/AP Photo.
A mother of three and Emory University theology graduate is scheduled to become the first woman to be executed in Georgia in 70 years. Her name is Kelly Gissendaner, and she is set to die at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

With just hours remaining before Gissendaner is set to be put to death, her children are continuing to fight for her life. "My brothers and I really want my mom to live. She is all that we have left," Kayla Gissendaner, Kelly's 25-year-old daughter, said in a video message asking that her mother be spared.

Kayla's father, Douglas Gissendaner, was stabbed to death when she was just 7 years old. Kelly Gissendaner was convicted of arranging for her lover, Gregory Owen, to kill her husband. For many years, Kayla refused to speak to her mom. Six years ago, she and her brother Dakota had a change of heart.
Advertisement
"Forgiving our mother was truly the best way to honor our dad's memory," Dakota explains through tears in the heart-wrenching video.

Like many who oppose the death penalty, neither Kayla nor Dakota believe killing their mother will bring their father — or them — any justice. The only result will be more pain. "Every day I feel like my world is just falling apart," Kayla said, lamenting the little time she's had to get to know her mom.

On the other hand, the family of Douglas Gissendaner argues that Kelly's death is proper recompense for her crime.

"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," the victim's family said in a statement.
Photo: Ann Borden, Emory Photo Video.
Following her conviction, Kelly endeavored to turn her life around. She enrolled in Emory University's program for incarcerated women, got a theology degree, and committed her time behind bars to counseling other women.

Twice before, Kayla and her brothers have been forced to confront the rapidly approaching prospect of their mother's death at the hands of the state. Georgia planned to execute Kelly in March and before that in February.

In the earlier instance, a winter storm got in the way; in March, a judge ordered an injunction to halt all executions in Georgia because of concerns about the drug used for lethal injections.

Those opposing Kelly's execution — including Struggle Sisterhood, an advocacy group formed by previously incarcerated women — are employing the hashtag #kellyonmymind, urging the Georgia parole board to rescind its decision.
Advertisement
"Her life is an extraordinary example of the rehabilitation that the corrections system aims to produce. Kelly is a living testimony to the possibility of change and the power of hope," a statement on the #kellyonmymind website reads.

The group is seeking 100,000 signatures on a petition to stop the execution. At the time of this publication, numbers reached just over 90,000.

At 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Georgia's State Board of Pardons and Paroles met to deliberate on Kelly's request for clemency. The board has yet to release its verdict.
Advertisement