Georgia executes killer despite pleas for mercy

Supporters of Gissendaner outside Georgia Diagnostic Prison before Tuesday's execution. Picture: AP

Supporters of Gissendaner outside Georgia Diagnostic Prison before Tuesday's execution. Picture: AP

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The only woman on Georgia’s death row was executed yesterday, making her the first woman put to death in the southern US state in seven decades.

Kelly Renee Gissendaner was pronounced dead by injection of pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson. She was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband after she conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death.

Ms Gissendaner, 47, sobbed as she said she loved her children, and apologised to Douglas Gissendaner’s family, saying she hope they could find some peace and happiness.

She also addressed her lawyer, Susan Casey. “I just want to say God bless you all and I love you, Susan. You let my kids know I went out singing Amazing Grace,” Gissendaner said.

Gissendaner sang the hymn and also appeared to sing another song before taking several deep breaths and then becoming still.

More than 100 people gathered in rainy conditions outside the prison to support Gissendaner. Among them was Reverend Della Bacote, a chaplain at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville who spent several hours with Gissendaner on Tuesday afternoon, talking and praying. “She was at peace with whatever was to come,” Rev Bacote said.

Gissendaner’s three children visited her on Monday but were unable to see her on Tuesday because they were testifying before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, Rev Bacote said.

Two of her three children had previously addressed the board and also put out a video earlier this month pleading for their mother’s life and talking about their own difficult path to forgiveness. Her oldest son had not previously addressed the board.

The US Supreme Court denied multiple efforts to stop the execution on Tuesday, and the parole board stood by its February decision to deny clemency.

The Pope’s diplomatic representative in the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, sent a letter on Tuesday to the parole board on behalf of the pontiff asking for a commutation of Gissendaner’s sentence “to one that would better express both justice and mercy”.

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