Ahead of winter storm, Georgia delays execution of state's only female death row inmate



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ATLANTA — The state of Georgia on Wednesday delayed the execution of its only female death row inmate, ahead of a winter storm forecast to hit many areas with several inches of snow.

Kelly Renee Gissendaner, 46, had been scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson. The execution has been reset for Monday, according to a Department of Corrections statement.

The execution was rescheduled because of winter weather and associated scheduling issues, department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan wrote in an email. A winter storm was is forecast to hit parts of Georgia on Wednesday afternoon, closing schools and offices and prompting warnings about roads.

A review of department records indicates this is the first time Georgia has delayed an execution because of weather, Hogan wrote.

Gissendaner was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband. Prosecutors said she plotted his death with her boyfriend, Gregory Owen.

Owen, who pleaded guilty and received a life prison sentence, testified at Gissendaner's trial. A jury convicted Gissendaner and sentenced her to death in 1998.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles held a clemency hearing Tuesday for Gissendaner but announced Wednesday that her request for clemency was denied. The parole board is the only entity in Georgia with the authority to commute a death sentence.

Gissendaner would be the first woman executed in Georgia in about 70 years.

Gissendaner told police her husband didn't return home Feb. 7, 1997, from dinner with friends in Lawrenceville, just outside Atlanta. His burned-out car was found two days later. His body was found about a week after that, roughly a mile from the car, in a remote wooded area. He had been stabbed several times.

Kelly and Douglas Gissendaner had a troubled relationship, splitting up and getting back together multiple times, including divorcing and remarrying, according to information provided by the state attorney general's office. Kelly Gissendaner repeatedly pushed Owen in late 1996 to kill her husband rather than just divorcing him as Owen suggested, prosecutors said.

Acting on Kelly Gissendaner's instructions, Owen ambushed Douglas Gissendaner at Gissendaner's home, forced him to drive to a remote area and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said

Investigators looking into Douglas Gissendaner's killing zeroed in on Owen once they learned of his affair with Kelly Gissendaner. He initially denied involvement but eventually confessed and implicated Kelly Gissendaner.

A clemency petition submitted by Gissendaner's lawyers was declassified and made public Monday by the parole board. It included several dozen testimonials from prison employees, clergy, educators and fellow inmates detailing Gissendaner's transformation through faith into a positive role model who has aided troubled inmates and helped prison guards keep order.

The clemency petition also included statements from two of Gissendaner's three children asking the parole board to spare their mother's life.

Kayla Gissendaner, who was 7 when her father was killed, wrote to the board that she'd gone through periods of not speaking to her mother and that it had taken her a long time to get over her anger and bitterness at her mother for taking her father away.

"It was by no means an easy road, but I learned that forgiving my mother was the best way to truly honor my father's memory and who he was," she wrote. "My mother has become a woman full of love and compassion who is striving to become the best person she can within her situation."

The clemency petition also included a statement from Gissendaner, who apologized to her children and to the Gissendaner family.

"There are no excuses for what I did. I am fully responsible for my role in my husband's murder," she said. "I had become so self-centered and bitter about my life and who I had become, that I lost all judgment."

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