#KellyOnMyMind: Georgia Set to Execute First Woman in 70 Years

The state of Georgia is set to execute Kelly Gissendaner next week, on Tuesday September 29. In some ways this case is unusual, even exceptional; in other ways, it’s business as usual – especially in a state like Georgia.

What makes Kelly Gissendaner’s case different? For one thing, she’s a woman. Gissendaner is the only woman on Georgia’s death row. If she’s executed, she’ll the first woman put to death by the State of Georgia in 70 years.

Another aspect of Kelly Gissendaner’s case that is drawing attention is the life she’s led since entering death row. She completed a theological degree program while living behind bars in Georgia through Atlanta’s prestigious Emory University. She became a minister to other women living in prison with her, and has profoundly impacted the lives of many of them. You can watch the powerful testimony of some of those women here explain how Kelly changed their lives.

What’s somewhat less unusual – but still noteworthy – is the fact that two defendants accused of the same crime received starkly different sentences. One of them is now facing imminent execution while the other may one day walk free.

Both Kelly Gissendaner and her co-defendant, Gregory Owen, were offered a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 25 years if they pled guilty to the murder of Kelly’s husband Douglas Gissendaner. Owen took the deal, but Kelly Gissendaner did not. She went to trial before a jury, which convicted her and sentenced her to death.

The thing is, while Kelly Gissendaner has taken full responsibility for her role in the murder of her husband, it was not actually she who stabbed him to death. That was done by Gregory Owen, even if it was Kelly Gissendaner who had initiated the idea.  It is not that Gregory Owen should have received the death penalty – no one should, regardless of the crime or their culpability, as scores of countries have recognized. But the situation brings to mind what Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in May in his dissent in the recent lethal injection opinion of the US Supreme Court, Glossip v. Gross.

Suggesting that the time is now right for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of the death penalty, Justice Breyer recalled how “after considering thousands of death penalty cases and last-minute petitions over the course of more than 20 years. I see discrepancies for which I can find no rational explanations. Why does one defendant who committed a single-victim murder receive the death penalty, while another defendant does not?”

When prosecutors and state officials defend the death penalty, they often use the refrain that it’s reserved for the “worst of the worst.” That’s supposed to mean that only the most serious crimes and the most culpable of offenders receive the death penalty and that the system is fair and reliable in this selection process. In reality, a host of other factors can determine who gets sentenced to death: race, class, geography, quality of legal representation, even the political aspirations of official decision-makers can play a role in who is sentenced to live or die in the United States.

No one should have their human rights stripped away by the state. Cases like Kelly Gissendaner’s illustrate why every person is more than the sum total of their worst actions. Although she participated in a violent crime with very serious consequences, she has gone on to improve the lives of many other women in prison. This has been recognized by many correctional staff who have come into contact with her over the years.

Governments are expected to prioritize rehabilitation in their prisons. Here, a prisoner’s rehabilitation is about to be met by her eradication. Surely Georgia can do better than that.

Click here to call on Georgia leaders to halt Kelly Gissendaner’s execution immediately, and let the world know that you’ve #KellyOnMyMind.

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14 thoughts on “#KellyOnMyMind: Georgia Set to Execute First Woman in 70 Years

  1. She hasn't taken full responsibility for the death of her husband if she didn't plead guilty. That makes no sense.

  2. It does not matter that she is a women. She committed the murder, let her pay the price, just as a man would have to do.

  3. What purpose is served by killing this woman? When a criminal shows no remorse it is one thing. This lady, knowing she has the death sentence has shown a complete turn about and done so much for those with whom she has come in contact.

  4. I think anyone that kills someone or help plan the death of someone they should die as well. I don't care what she did after the fact.. maybe she should of changed her life before planning on killing her husband. There is such a thing called divorce maybe she should of planned on that instead of trying to cash in a life insurance policy. Good ridden's I say.

  5. Sometimes Awful mistakes happen! As the pope said, everyone deserves a chance to have another chance and change the world with their gained experience! I wish Kelly good luck and wisdom to the Kentucky lawmakers.

  6. you know something mr. everyone deserves a second chance and the only one who has a right to judge someone is God almighty i hope and pray that she will live and that she will help more women many more women. i am one who believe that anyone can make mistakes but and no one is perfect and no one should take a persons life for a life its the same thing just in a different way. Let God be the one to judge her and no one else. everyone has to give an account for their own actions and really very soon, sooner than you know.

  7. Hardly fair! This person deserves the right to rehabilitate for the action. Please take into consideration the positive work that she has done in her rehabilitation. …this fact cannot be ignored. Georgia can't be that stubborn by upholding antiquity in this situation. Has the Governor been sought out for a Pardon?

  8. Did the Pope's visit to 'Christian America 'have no impact? He was extreamly clear in his feelings about this horrendous act, execution.no one can truly call themselves a Christian and condone the Death Penalty.