Georgia parole board to hold new clemency hearing for only woman on state's death row

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ATLANTA — One day before the only woman on Georgia's death row is set to be executed, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday scheduled a new clemency hearing in her case.

Kelly Renee Gissendaner, 47, is set to die by injection of pentobarbital at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the state prison in Jackson. She was previously scheduled to die March 2, but state officials called off the execution "out of an abundance of caution" after noticing that the execution drug was "cloudy."

The new hearing will be held Tuesday morning.

The parole board, the only entity authorized to commute a death sentence in Georgia, said in a news release that its members have thoroughly reviewed a second request from Gissendaner's lawyers to reconsider a February decision denying clemency. They are holding the new hearing to gather additional information from representatives for Gissendaner, the release says.

Gissendaner was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. Prosecutors said she conspired with her lover, Gregory Owen, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death. Owen, who took a plea deal and testified against Gissendaner, is serving life in prison and will become eligible for parole in 2022.

Two of Gissendaner's three children already asked the board earlier this year to spare their mother's life. The parole board's decision to hold a new meeting came after her oldest child, Brandon, asked to address the board, said Susan Casey, an attorney for Gissendaner.

Earlier Monday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash declined to halt her execution or reconsider his dismissal of a complaint that Gissendaner's lawyers filed in March. They argued in part that there's a substantial risk of serious harm if the execution proceeds as planned because officials still can't explain what went wrong with the execution drug in March.

Gissendaner's attorneys have appealed Thrash's ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

After the problem with the execution drug surfaced, Georgia corrections officials suspended executions until an analysis could be done.

In mid-April they released lab reports, a sworn statement from a pharmacological expert hired by the state and a short video showing a syringe of clear liquid with chunks of a white solid floating in the solution. Corrections officials said the expert concluded the chunks probably formed because the solution was shipped and stored at a temperature that was too low.

In a June court filing, the department revealed that it did its own test on a new batch of pentobarbital made by the same compounding pharmacist who made the drug meant for Gissendaner's execution.

The Department of Corrections' chief of special projects stored one sample in a refrigerator at 34 degrees and one in a room where the temperature fluctuated between 67 degrees and 72 degrees for 11 days, from March 24 to April 3. No changes were recorded in either sample. Both started and ended as clear liquid with no solids.

Without knowing what caused the earlier problem, Gissendaner attorney Gerald King said there's no reason to think the drug won't precipitate again Tuesday. The state plans to use the same compounding pharmacist and the same execution protocol and there's no evidence additional safeguards have been put in place, King said.

The state has done everything it can to ensure that the problem won't recur, and state officials would not proceed if a problem was detected, argued Sabrina Graham, a lawyer for the state.

Gissendaner's lawyers have also released statements from high-profile figures, including former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher and former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr, arguing that Gissendaner shouldn't be executed because her death sentence is disproportionate since Owen, who actually did the killing, got a life sentence and will be eligible for parole in seven years.

In a statement released through the Gwinnett County district attorney's office, which prosecuted the case, Douglas Gissendaner's family said he is the victim and that Kelly Gissendaner planned the murder and received a just punishment from a jury of her peers.

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