Convicted of orchestrating her husband's death in 1997, Kelly Gissendaner was executed in Jackson, Ga., on Tuesday evening, becoming the first woman in 70 years to be put to death in the state.
Gissendaner was set to be executed at 7 p.m., but a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court delayed the execution for more than an hour, The Washington Post reported. The justices decided not to stop the execution process.
The request to the Supreme Court was the last resort for Gissendaner and her supporters, who had advocated for clemency Tuesday. WABE, NPR's member station in Atlanta, reported Pope Francis asked the board to commute her sentence to life in prison in a letter delivered to to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles Tuesday. Her three children also pleaded for clemency, as did former inmates who said Gissendaner counselled them during their time behind bars.
The family of her late husband, Douglas Gissendaner, said that Kelly Gissendaner had already received enough legal opportunities.
"As the murderer, she's been given more rights and opportunity over the last 18 years than she ever afforded to Doug who, again, is the victim here," the family's statement said, according to the Journal-Constitution.
The board declined to grant her clemency, though they did not give a stated reason for the decision.
Execution was delayed several times
Gissendaner, 47, was originally scheduled to be put to death in February, but winter weather postponed the execution. The execution was postponed once more in March when there were questions about the safety of the lethal injection drug, phenobarbitol, because it appeared "cloudy."
Gissendaner was found guilty of plotting her husband's 1997 murder and then persuading her then lover, Gregory Owen, to do it, the Journal-Constituion reported.
"Owen was waiting at the Gissendaner house when Douglas Gissendaner came home after an evening at the home of friends from his church. Douglas was forced at knife-point to drive to a remote area of Gwinnett County where Owen knocked the man unconscious and repeatedly stabbed him in the neck. Kelly Gissendaner arrived at the scene just as her husband died.
"Owen pleaded guilty and testified against her and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Gissendaner rejected the same deal offered Owen and went to trial, where she was convicted by a Gwinnett County jury."
Owen will be eligible for parole in 2023.
For her last meal, Gissendaner requested cheese dip with chips, Texas nachos with fajita meat and a diet frosted lemonade. As the Journal reported, the meal was significantly less than her previous "last meal" in March of cornbread, buttermilk, two Burger King Whoppers with cheese and all the trimmings, two large orders of French fries, salad with boiled eggs, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, carrots, cheese and Paul Newman buttermilk dressing, cherry vanilla ice cream, popcorn and lemonade.
Oklahoma execution scheduled for Wednesday
Two weeks ago, Oklahoma was hours away from executing Richard Glossip when a state court stepped in and delayed his execution so it could consider his appeals. On Monday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals said it was rejecting these appeals and Glossip's request for a stay of execution. As a result, Glossip's lethal injection remains scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Glossip was sentenced to death for paying a fellow motel worker to kill their boss, owner Barry Van Treese, though he was not convicted of personally killing Van Treese.
Glossip's attorneys argue that executing him based on the co-worker's testimony "risks a wrongful execution." They also submitted an affidavit from a man who said that while in an Oklahoma state prison, he heard the co-worker say that Glossip hadn't done anything.