Georgia executes first female inmate in 70 years, sparking more debate across the country over the moral implications of the death penalty. 47-year-old Kelly Gissendaner was executed by lethal injection at 12:21 a.m. Eastern Time in the city of Jackson at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison.
Gissendaner was found guilty of arranging the murder of her husband, Douglas, in 1997. Coroners concluded that Douglas died due to multiple stab wounds on the neck and a fatal blow to the back of the head. Prosecution concluded that Gissendaner convinced her-then boyfriend Gregory Owen to carry out the deed.
The defense argued that Owen merely testified against Gissendaner to evade the death penalty. Owen is now serving life without parole. Meanwhile, close relatives and fellow inmates have spoken about Gissendaner’s transformation during her prison sentence.
Reverend Cathy Zappa, an Episcopal priest volunteering at the facility where she was incarcerated claimed Gissendaner remained strong in her religious beliefs, despite her trials and the tumultuous period preceding her execution. Other inmates have also confessed to her change of character, noting her religious devotion and willingness to guide and mentor others.
Those present at the execution describe her final moments as heartbreaking. Witnesses say she used her last words to bless everyone present, express love for her children and then proceeded to sing Amazing Grace as the lethal drugs were administered.
During his six-day visit to the United States, Pope Francis, a firm opponent of the death penalty, has spoken about the ethical ramifications of capital punishment in his address to Congress. He has also taken an interest in Gissendaner’s case, urging officials to reconsider her death sentence.
Her execution, which was due to take place earlier this year, was postponed on several accounts of bad weather and an alleged discrepancy on the sedatives used on death row inmates. Defense lawyers continued to push the US Court of Appeals to revisit her case and investigate the legal nature of the discrepancy and the legality of changing the lethal drugs.
Gissendaner’s case comes at a time when there is already widespread debate on capital punishment. Today, Richard Glossip, another death row inmate in Oklahoma was granted a 37-day stay of his execution in light of new evidence to prove his innocence. As in the case of Gissendaner, the defense has argued against the choice of lethal drugs as unconstitutional, in opposition to the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.
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