Kelly Renée Brookshire
March 8, 1968
Lawrenceville, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||September 30, 2015 (aged 47)|
|Cause of death||Execution by lethal injection|
(September 30, 2015 )
(m. 1987; div. 1987)
(m. 1989; div. 1993)
(m. 1995; d. 1997)
|Motive||To be with another man|
(November 18, 1998)
|Criminal penalty||Death (November 20, 1998)|
|Partner(s)||Gregory Owen (1997)|
|Date||February 7, 1997|
c. 11:30 p.m.
|February 25, 1997|
|Imprisoned at||Arrendale State Prison|
Kelly Renée Gissendaner (née Brookshire; March 8, 1968 – September 30, 2015) was an American woman who was executed by the U.S. state of Georgia. Gissendaner had been convicted of orchestrating the murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner (December 14, 1966 – February 7, 1997). At the time of the murder, Gissendaner was 28, and her husband was 30. After her conviction, and until her execution, Gissendaner was the only woman on death row in Georgia.
Early life and family
Gissendaner was born into a poor cotton-farming family.
According to sworn affidavits by friends and family members, she was molested by her stepfather and other men during her childhood and adolescence. During her senior year of high school, she claimed to have been date raped. Nine months later, her first son was born. In 1987, at the age of 19, Kelly Gissendaner married her first husband Jeff Banks. They stayed together for six months.
Kelly married Douglas Gissendaner for the first time on September 2, 1989. They had a baby together, lost their jobs, and moved in with Kelly's mother. Douglas joined the Army and they were sent to Germany. Kelly became pregnant by another man who later died of cancer. She and Douglas were divorced in 1993. In May 1995, she remarried Douglas. In December 1996, the couple bought a house together in Auburn, Georgia.
On February 7, 1997, Gregory Bruce Owen (born March 17, 1971) hid near the couple's home in Auburn. When Douglas arrived, Owen forced Douglas into his car at knifepoint and drove him to a wooded area in Gwinnett County near Harbins Park. After striking Douglas in the head with a nightstick, Owen stabbed Douglas in the neck and back multiple times. When Kelly arrived at the scene moments later, the two set fire to her husband's car and hid the body in the woods.
Gissendaner was convicted of orchestrating her husband's murder and sentenced to death in 1998, after Owen testified against her in a plea agreement in which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Owen told a jury that Gissendaner had first approached him about "a way to get rid of" her husband three months before the murder. He further testified that Gissendaner thought murder was the only way to get Douglas out of her life and still get the house and a payoff from his life insurance policy. During the trial, Gissendaner was discovered to have threatened witnesses and also plotted to pay a witness to commit perjury.
After being sentenced to death, Gissendaner resided in Metro State Prison until it was closed in 2011. She was then transferred to Arrendale State Prison. While in prison, Gissendaner had a conversion to Christianity. During her time in prison, Gissendaner ministered to other women living in prison with her.
A group of women who were incarcerated with Gissendaner formed a group called the "Struggle Sisters" after they were released from prison. Gissendaner had spoken to the women through an air vent and prevented some from committing suicide, while other women tell of how Gissendaner's words encouraged them to turn their lives around. The women released a video detailing the impact Gissendaner had on their lives.
During theology studies, she became a student of Christian thinkers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rowan Williams. Gissendaner developed a friendship with Jürgen Moltmann while she was in prison. Gissendaner sent Moltmann a paper which she had written on Bonhoeffer. He was impressed with her paper, and he wrote back. After that, the two became penpals exchanging letters about theology and faith. Gissendaner completed a theological degree program through Emory University.
Gissendaner's execution was scheduled for February 25, 2015, when a winter storm delayed it until March 2, 2015. Her execution was further delayed when one of the execution drugs (pentobarbital) was thought to have been spoiled through improper storage, though it was later determined that the drug had merely precipitated out of solution due to colder than recommended storage conditions.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, on behalf of Pope Francis, urged the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare Gissendaner's life. Gissendaner's clemency application to the Board of Pardons included support from a number of correctional officers whom she had met while in prison. Norman S. Fletcher, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, urged clemency because capital punishment was not proportional to her crime. The Georgia Republican Party's general counsel and Republican Bob Barr also supported clemency.
Gissendaner was scheduled to be executed on September 29, 2015, but was again delayed by appeals. She was finally executed by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia, on September 30 at 12:21 a.m.
Gissendaner cried, prayed, sang "Amazing Grace", and said, "...and I love you Sally. And I love you Susan. You let my kids know I went out singing Amazing Grace. And tell the Gissendaner family I am so sorry. That amazing man lost his life because of me and if I could take it back, if this would change it, I would have done it a long time ago. But it's not. And I just hope they can find peace. And I hope they find some happiness. God bless you."
- Capital punishment in Georgia (U.S. state)
- List of people executed in Georgia (U.S. state)
- List of people executed in the United States in 2015
- List of women executed in the United States since 1976
- Blinder, Alan (29 September 2015). "Clemency Denied, Kelly Gissendaner Nears Execution in Georgia". New York Times. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
- "Detective recounts how he put Kelly Gissendaner on death row". WGCL-TV Atlanta. 25 February 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
- Estep, Tyler. "The life of the damned: Kelly Gissendaner's path to execution". gwinnettdailypost.com. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
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- Cook, Rhonda. "Justice has different meanings for Kelly Gissendaner's family". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
- Sharpe, Joshua. "After long silence, Kelly Gissendaner's eldest son will plead for mercy at clemency hearing". Gwinnett Daily Post. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
- Hawkins, Steven W. (25 September 2015). "Kelly Gissendaner Should Serve Life in Prison, Not Be Executed". Huffington Post. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
- Estep, Tyler. "Family of Kelly Gissendaner's slain husband: Remember the victim". ajc.com. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
- Supreme Court of Georgia. "GISSENDANER v. The STATE, No. S00P0289". caselaw.findlaw.com. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
- Oppenheimer, Mark (28 February 2015). "A Death Row Inmate Finds Common Ground With Theologians". The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
- Cook, David. "The sisters who struggle for Kelly Gissendaner". timesfreepress.com. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
- "Pope Francis asks to spare life of condemned Ga. woman; state declines plea". CBS News. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
- "Former high-ranking state officials join growing chorus asking for Gissendaner clemency". 11alive.com. Archived from the original on 20 October 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
- Sharpe, Joshua. "Ex-Ga. chief justice Norman Fletcher, others argue against Gissendaner execution". Gwinnett Daily Post. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
- "Parole Board Green-Lights Execution of Kelly Gissendaner Despite Pope's Plea". NBC News. 29 September 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
- "Kelly Gissendaner executed in Georgia".
- Milligan, Mandi; Harris, Rodney (29 September 2015). "Kelly Gissendaner executed after 5 hour delay". WMBF News. Archived from the original on 30 September 2015. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
- Connor, Tracy. "Georgia Woman Kelly Gissendaner Sings 'Amazing Grace' During Execution". nbcnews.com. NBC News. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
- "Hear executed woman's final words". CNN. 1 October 2015.
- Ford, Matt (29 September 2015). "The Limits of Georgia's Mercy". The Atlantic. Retrieved 29 September 2015.