A US state has executed a woman for orchestrating her husband’s murder, while the man who stabbed him to death remains in prison on a life sentence.
Kelly Renee Gissendaner was given a lethal injection in the early hours of Wednesday morning as 100 people gathered outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center, in Jackson, to show their support.
Witnesses said the 47-year-old sobbed in the minutes before her death, sent her love to her three children, and apologised to her husband’s family, saying she hopes they can find some peace and happiness.
Addressing her lawyer, Susan Casey, she said: “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.’”
She sang the hymn and started another song before taking several deep breaths and then becoming still, reporters at the scene said.
In the run up to her execution, she selected her final meal and recorded a brief last message for her children.
Gissendaner had been the only woman on Georgia’s death row and was the first executed in the southern US state in seven decades.
She was convicted of murder after directing her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, to kill her husband in February 1997.
Owen ambushed Douglas Gissendaner at the couple’s home, forced him to drive to a remote area and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said.
He testified against his former girlfriend at their trial in 1998 as part of a plea bargain that spared him the death penalty.
Jurors accepted the prosecution’s case that Gissendaner was the driving force behind the murder, for her husband’s house and life insurance policies, and rejected arguments that she should not receive a more severe sentence than the actual killer.
“Yes, Greg Owen took a knife and stabbed Doug Gissendaner to death, but Kelly Gissendaner is more responsible,” lead prosecutor Phil Wiley told a Gwinnett County court. “She got him to do it.”
Various courts, including the US Supreme Court, denied multiple last-ditch efforts to stop her execution on Tuesday, and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles stood by its decision to deny clemency.
Gissendaner’s three children had previously addressed the board and made a video earlier this month pleading for their mother’s life to be spared. They saw her for the last time on Monday.
An intervention from the Pope was also ignored. His diplomatic representative in the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, sent a letter 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.”
Pope Francis called for the abolition of the death penalty in an address to Congress last week.
Gissendaner's lawyers also submitted a statement from former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher, where he argued that the death sentence was not proportionate to her role in the crime.
He noted that Owen will become eligible for parole in 2022, saying that Georgia had not executed a person who had not physically killed someone since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Gissendaner's lawyers also said she was a seriously damaged woman who has undergone a spiritual transformation in prison and has been a model prisoner who has shown remorse.
But Douglas Gissendaner's family said in a statement that he was the victim and his received an appropriate punishment.
“As the murderer, she's been given more rights and opportunity over the last 18 years than she ever afforded to Doug who, again, is the victim here,” the family said.
“She had no mercy, gave him no rights, no choices, nor the opportunity to live his life.”
More than 100 people gathered in rainy conditions outside the prison to support Gissendaner as she was given the fatal dose of pentobarbital.
Among them was Rev. Della Bacote, a chaplain at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville and who spent several hours with Gissendaner on Tuesday afternoon, talking and praying.
“She was at peace with whatever was to come,” she said.
Additional reporting by AP
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