By KATE BRUMBACK
ATLANTA — The Georgia parole board says it will not spare the life of the only woman on the state’s death row, who is set to be executed Wednesday evening.
The board made its announcement in a news release Wednesday morning, hours before Kelly Renee Gissendaner, 46, is set to die at the state prison in Jackson. Her lawyers had asked the board to commute her sentence to life in prison without parole.
Gissendaner was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband. Prosecutors said she plotted with her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, in the killing.
Owen pleaded guilty and received a life prison sentence. A jury sentenced Gissendaner to death in 1998.
The parole board is the only entity in Georgia with the authority to commute a death sentence.
Gissendaner would be the first woman executed in Georgia in about 70 years. The last inmate to be granted clemency by the parole board was Tommy Lee Waldrip in July.
Gissendaner told police her husband didn’t return home Feb. 7, 1997, from dinner with friends in Lawrenceville, just outside Atlanta. His burned-out car was found two days later. His body was found about a week after that, roughly a mile from the car, in a remote wooded area. He had been stabbed several times.
Kelly and Douglas Gissendaner had a troubled relationship, splitting up and getting back together multiple times, including divorcing and remarrying, according to information provided by the state attorney general’s office. Kelly Gissendaner repeatedly pushed Owen in late 1996 to kill her husband rather than just divorcing him as Owen suggested, prosecutors said.
Acting on Kelly Gissendaner’s instructions, Owen ambushed Douglas Gissendaner at Gissendaner’s home, forced him to drive to a remote area and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said
Investigators looking into Douglas Gissendaner’s killing zeroed in on Owen once they learned of his affair with Kelly Gissendaner. He initially denied involvement but eventually confessed and implicated Kelly Gissendaner.
Owen, who pleaded guilty and is serving life in prison, testified at Gissendaner’s trial. A jury found Gissendaner guilty and sentenced her to death in 1998.
A clemency petition submitted by Gissendaner’s lawyers was declassified and made public Monday by the parole board. It included several dozen testimonials from prison employees, clergy, educators and fellow inmates detailing Gissendaner’s transformation through faith into a positive role model who has aided troubled inmates and helped prison guards keep order.
The clemency petition also included statements from two of Gissendaner’s three children asking the parole board to spare their mother’s life.
Kayla Gissendaner, who was 7 when her father was killed, wrote to the board that she’d gone through periods of not speaking to her mother and that it had taken her a long time to get over her anger and bitterness at her mother for taking her father away.
“It was by no means and easy road, but I learned that forgiving my mother was the best way to truly honor my father’s memory and who he was,” she wrote. “My mother has become a woman full of love and compassion who is striving to become the best person she can within her situation.”
The clemency petition also included a statement from Gissendaner, who apologized to her children and to the Gissendaner family.
“There are no excuses for what I did. I am fully responsible for my role in my husband’s murder,” she said. “I had become so self-centered and bitter about my life and who I had become, that I lost all judgment.”