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Georgia Executes Kelly Gissendaner Despite Pope Francis’ Plea To Appeal Sentence

Wed, September 30, 2015 1:06am EDT by 4 Comments
Kelly Gissendaner Executed
Courtesy of Georgia Department of Corrections

Kelly Gissendaner, the only woman on Georgia’s death row, was executed by lethal injection on Sept. 30, despite Pope Francis’ calls to halt her execution. The mother-of-three is now the first woman to be put to death in the state in over 70 years.

Kelly Gissendaner, 47, who was sentenced to death for convincing her lover to kill her husband in 1997, was executed by the State of Georgia on Sept. 30. The execution came after a number of last-ditch efforts were made to have her sentence appealed, including a personal plea from Pope Francis himself.

The mother-of-three was originally scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m. on Sept. 29, but was held up by a series of court delays. Kelly was finally executed at 12:21 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept 30, at the state prison in Jackson, Georgia. Kely sang “Amazing Grace” until she was given a lethal injection, witnesses told NBC News. She also cried, while saying her late husband was an “amazing man who died because of me.”

Prior to the execution, Pope Francis, who called for a ban on the death penalty during his visit to the United States on Sept. 23, asked the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare Kelly’s life, through a letter written by an archbishop on his behalf. “While not wishing to minimize the gravity of the crime for which Ms. Gissendander has been convicted, and while sympathizing with the victims, I nonetheless implore you, in consideration of the reasons that have been expressed to your board, to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy,” Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano wrote in the letter.

The execution itself was unusual though, and one that sparked a heated debate in the public sphere. Though Kelly did reportedly initiate the plan to kill her husband, she did not carry out the crime, and yet, was given the death penalty while the actual killer received a life sentence.  “The State of Georgia has not executed a non-trigger person since the penalty was reinstated in 1976,” her lawyers wrote in the application for reconsideration of clemency.

In the hours leading up to her execution, Kelly was able to share a few final words with her three children. “I love you, I love you, I love you, and I’m so proud of you,” she told a spokesman of the children, who were speaking to the parole board on behalf of her that morning. During the hearing, Kelly’s children reportedly asked the state of Georgia to have mercy on their mother, despite her killing their father, saying they could not bear to lose another parent. Meanwhile, Kelly’s attorneys called on the board to commute her sentence, saying it was disproportionate to the crime as she was not the ‘trigger-person’ in her husband’s death. They also submitted accounts from fellow prisoners testifying about Kelly’s positive influence in their lives and in the prison system.

— Alyssa Montemurro