Several days ago I wrote about Kelly Gissendaner, the only woman on Georgia’s death row. She was scheduled to be executed last Tuesday night after sitting on death row for 20 years and in spite of the fact that she has saved innumerable lives during those 20 years. Kelly had been found guilty of planning the murder of her husband. The man who actually committed the murder received a life sentence and could someday be released on parole. You can see my original post here.
On Tuesday the State Board of Pardons and Paroles again rejected the request that Kelly’s sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole. Not only did they uphold the death penalty, but they gave her three adult children the choice of seeing their mother one last time (at the prison in Jackson, GA) or appearing before the Pardons and Paroles Board (in Atlanta) to plead for leniency in her case. Her children opted to appear before the Board and had no opportunity to say goodbye to their mother. They made the trip to the prison later in the day and waited outside with others standing vigil.
Over 90,000 signatures had been gathered on petitions asking that Kelly’s death sentence be lessened. She had the support of fellow prisoners whose lives she had saved, prison chaplains, the Candler School of Theology where she had earned a Certificate of Theological Studies, the Catholic Church, Pope Francis himself, the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church, many Baptist churches, many other faith leaders, Amnesty International, a retired Deputy Director in the State Department of Corrections, and a former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
A hurried appeal was filed by Kelly’s attorneys with the Georgia State Supreme Court, and three separate appeals were filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. All were denied, and Kelly was executed by lethal injection shortly before 12:30 a.m. Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning.
The fight to abolish the death penalty in this country will continue. We hope that as Kelly inspired so many during her life, she will continue to inspire others in her death. If the goal of imprisonment is redemption and reform, then Kelly was a success story. She should never have been put to death. She could have remained in prison, continuing to help and inspire other imprisoned women. Before she was executed she wanted people to know that she was going out singing “Amazing Grace.” And she died with those words on her lips.
May Kelly Gissendaner rest in peace and rise in glory.