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Federal court dismisses suit brought by Ga’s only woman on Death Row

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit brought by the only woman on Georgia’s Death Row, clearing the way for the state to set a new execution date for Kelly Gissendaner.

Gissendaner, sentenced to die for for her husband’s 1997 murder, filed a federal lawsuit just days after her scheduled execution was called off on March 2. She complained in the suit the uncertainty over whether or when she would be put to death violated her constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Gissendaner’s lawyers said she suffered “prolonged fear and uncertainty as to whether she would be subjected to a torturous death” when the state postponed, rescheduled and postponed again her execution over the course of just a few minutes, according to lawsuit. Her lawyers wrote she was in mental agony while the state “dithered.”

Gissendaner was initially scheduled to die on Feb. 25 for Douglas Gissendaner’s murder but her lethal injection was rescheduled for 7 p.m. on March 2 after a winter storm made it too dangerous to transport her from the women’s prison in North Georgia to the facility near Jackson where the death chamber is located.

But then, the appointed time came and went. Department of Corrections officials told her lawyers almost 3 1/2 hours later that the execution might not happen because the pentobarbital made specifically for Gissendaner’s execution was cloudy. Within minutes, however, DOC told her lawyers the execution was back on. And a few minutes after that, DOC said the execution was being postponed “out of an abundance of caution.”

DOC promised to test the drug to find out the reason for clumps and the cloudy appearance. Subsequent testing did not provide any answers, but DOC insisted the drug had reacted to the cold temperature.

The filings in her lawsuit focused on the Georgia law that keeps secret all information about the source of execution drugs, an issue that has become a national debate.

The courts have upheld these laws, agreeing that they are necessary for states to acquire drugs for executions from companies and pharmacies that otherwise would not provide them out of fear of public pressure and criticism.

Gissendaner, who stands to be the first woman Georgia has executed since 1945, was convicted in Gwinnett County of planning her husband’s murder. Her lover, Gregory Owen, pleaded guilty to committing killing Douglas Gissendaner for her and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Just after postponing Gissendaner’s execution last winter, the state also canceled another scheduled lethal injection because of the issue with the lethal injection drug. Bryan Keith Terrell was to have been executed on March 10 for murdering 70-year-old John Watson at his Covington home in 1992.

The court did not give a reason for Monday’s decision.

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