A woman convicted for the 1997 murder of her husband has been executed in the southeastern U.S. state of Georgia, despite a flurry of last-minute legal maneuvers and a personal appeal by Pope Francis to spare her life.
Kelly Gissendaner died by lethal injection early Wednesday morning at prison facility outside the capital city, Atlanta. The 47-year-old Gissendaner was the state's only female on death row, and the first to be executed by the state since 1945.
Gissendaner was initially scheduled to be executed Tuesday night, but it was delayed as her lawyers filed several unsuccessful requests with state and federal courts to postpone the procedure, including three separate requests to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pope rep pleads for mercy
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the pope's diplomatic representative, sent a letter to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on Francis's behalf, asking the board to commute Gissendaner's sentence "to one that would better express both justice and mercy." The board is the only legal entity in Georgia authorized to issue commutations.
Gissendaner was convicted for conspiring in the stabbing death of her husband with her lover, Gregory Owen, who actually carried out the crime.
Her lawyers and supporters argued that her sentence was disproportionate to her actual crime, as Owen was sentenced to life in prison and is eligible for parole in 2022. They also noted that Gissendaner had undergone a profound spiritual transformation during her time in prison, becoming a source of comfort and encouragement for her fellow inmates.
Gissendaner was originally scheduled to be executed in February of this year, but it was delayed because of a winter storm. It was rescheduled for a month later, but corrections officials canceled that date over concerns about the quality of the lethal drugs to be used in the execution.