The scheduled execution of Kelly Gissendaner was postponed Monday. It wasn’t because of pleas by her supporters, but because of issues with the execution drugs.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan, who made that announcement shortly before 11 p.m., said there would be no questions answered and walked away without saying when the execution would occur.
She said the phenobarbital, made by a compounding pharmacy, “appeared cloudy” and out of “an abundance of caution” the execution was called off. Hogan said the drugs had been tested by an independent lab prior to the scheduled execution and found to be within accepted paramaters. It was only later the drugs appeared cloudy.
Gissendaner’s friends and supporters had hoped a last-minute reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court would keep her from becoming the first woman executed by Georgia in 70 years.
She had been scheduled to die at 7 p.m. for persuading her lover to murder her husband in 1997.
Gissendaner’s case attracted national and international attention, including last-minute attempts to save her by her attorneys and petitions and political action by those agitating for mercy for the 46-year-old mother of three.
A response from the high court was pending after an appellate court rejected her lawyers’ request for a delay on the grounds that Georgia’s lethal-injection procedures aren’t transparent enough to be challenged in court. Her lawyers added in a filing late Monday that the justices should take into account that she had been thoroughly rehabilitated, and that she didn’t take part in the actual killing.
Her friends included Jurgen Moltmann, an influential Christian theologian from Germany. Moltmann met Gissendaner as she was studying in a theological program in prison run by a collection of Atlanta-based divinity schools. Moltmann visited her when he came to lecture at Emory University.
Moltmann told The New York Times: “And I have found her very sensitive, and not a monster, as the newspapers depicted her. And very intelligent.
“She has changed her mind, and her life.”
Gissendaner was to have been put to death Wednesday, Feb. 25, for engineering her husband’s murder by her lover, Gregory Owen, but the threat of a winter storm led the commissioner of the Department of Corrections to push back the day, giving her five more days to live. She spent some of the time with two of her three adult children, who had reconciled with their mother.
After her appeals had failed and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles had rejected her plea to change her death sentence to life, an online push on her behalf began over the weekend. A hash tag — #kellyonmymind — was created. A petition was started on MoveOn.org. An online plea to Gov. Nathan Deal was posted, even though Georgia’s governor has no authority to grant reprieves. Sister Helen Prejean, the anti-death penalty activist who wrote “Dead Man Walking,” was posting her thoughts about Gissendaner on Twitter Monday.
Gissendaner’s lawyers filed an emergency application Monday morning for a 90-day stay. They hoped to allow time for another prison system official to advocate for her: Kathy Seabolt, who was a warden six years at the prisons where Gissendaner was housed. Seabolt is now over field operations for the entire prison system.
Several hours later, the Parole Board again declined to grant clemency.
Gissendaner’s lawyers said the parole board did not have a chance to hear the overwhelmingly positive testimony of many corrections employees who declined to speak up for fear of retaliation. They wrote that one high-ranking DOC employee has joined prison guards who went public earlier with their pleas to spare her. The lawyers also said the current warden had sent a memo telling staff not to speak to anyone about the execution, and that kept some from making statements on Gissendaner’s behalf.
They also cited a day when they say former Parole Board member James Donald, who also has been corrections commissioner, was at the prison and in effect assured Gissendaner she would someday get out.
“Each time, General Donald reiterated his statement that Ms. Gissendaner did not need to worry about clemency as it was a foregone conclusion,” Gissendaner’s lawyers wrote.
It takes a vote by three of the five Parole Board members to grant clemency. Donald left the Parole Board Feb. 1, replaced by former Corrections Commissioner Brian Owen.
Gissendaner spent what she thought may be her final hours visiting with two of her children and a lawyer.
She was allowed to shower and then ate her planned “final” meal of two Whoppers with cheese, two large orders of fries, popcorn, buttermilk and cornbread, ice cream and lemonade.
Kelly and Douglas Gissendaner’s difficult relationship from 1989 to 1997 included a marriage, divorce, another marriage, separation and another reunion in 1996.
Kelly met Gregory Owen during those years and convinced him in 1997 that killing her husband was the way for her to be free.
She planned to spend the evening of Feb. 7, 1997, at a bar with friends while Owen waited for Douglas at the Gissendaner house. She gave Owen a nightstick and a hunting knife. Owen kidnapped Douglas, drove him to a secluded spot and stabbed him to death.