TIME georgia

Execution of Georgia Woman Postponed Over Problems With Drug

Death row inmate Kelly Renee Gissendaner is seen in an undated picture from the Georgia Department of Corrections
Reuters Death-row inmate Kelly Renee Gissendaner is seen in an undated picture from the Georgia Department of Corrections

Georgia only uses pentobarbital for lethal injections, but there are some problems

(JACKSON, Ga.) — Georgia postponed its first execution of a woman in 70 years late Monday because of concerns about the drug to be used in the lethal injection.

The pentobarbital was sent to an independent lab to check its potency and the test came back at an acceptable level, but during subsequent checks it appeared cloudy, Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said. Corrections officials called the pharmacist and decided to postpone the execution “out of an abundance of caution,” she said. No new date was given.

Pentobarbital is the only drug used in Georgia executions. For other recent executions, the state has gotten the drug from a compounding pharmacy, but officials did not immediately respond late Monday when asked if that was the source in this case. Georgia law prohibits the release of any identifying information about the source of execution drugs or any entity involved in an execution.

Kelly Renee Gissendaner was scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. at the prison in Jackson for the February 1997 slaying of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. The execution was put on hold while officials waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to either grant or deny a stay requested by her lawyers. The court had still not ruled more than five hours later.

Her lawyers were seeking a delay pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in another case out of Oklahoma, and an appellate court had rejected that request. Late Monday, the lawyers added additional arguments for the high court: that it should consider a stay because Gissendaner didn’t kill her husband, Douglas Gissendaner, herself in February 1997. They also argued that she had been thoroughly rehabilitated.

Previously, courts had found Gissendaner had plotted the stabbing death of her husband by her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, who will be up for parole in eight years after accepting a life sentence and testifying against her.

Gissendaner would have been only the 16th woman put to death nationwide since the Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume in 1976. About 1,400 men have been executed since then, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only entity authorized to commute a death sentence, denied clemency last week and upheld that decision late Monday. Gissendaner’s lawyers had urged the board to reconsider and “bestow mercy” by commuting her sentence to life without parole. The board said it voted to abide by its earlier decision after “careful consideration” of the request.

Kelly and Douglas Gissendaner had a troubled relationship, repeatedly splitting up and getting back together, divorcing and remarrying. At the time of her husband’s death, Gissendaner was a 28-year-old mother of three children, 12, 7 and 5 years old. And she had an on-again, off-again lover in Owen.

Rather than divorcing her husband again, Gissendaner repeatedly pushed Owen to kill him, prosecutors said. Acting on her instructions, Owen ambushed her husband while she went out with friends, and forced him to drive to a remote area. Then he marched him into the woods and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said.

Owen and Gissendaner then met up and set fire to the dead man’s car in an attempted cover-up. Both initially denied involvement, but Owen eventually confessed and testified against his former girlfriend.

Her lawyers challenged the constitutionality of her sentence as disproportionate, given that she wasn’t there when Owen killed her husband, and yet Owen will eventually be eligible for parole. But Georgia’s Supreme Court voted 5-2 Monday to deny her motion, citing Owen’s testimony that she pushed for murder rather than divorce so that she could get her husband’s insurance money.

In their request Monday for reconsideration, Gissendaner’s lawyers said the parole board did not have a chance to hear the overwhelmingly positive testimony of many corrections employees who declined to speak up for fear of retaliation.

Her clemency petition already included testimonials from dozens of spiritual advisers, inmates and prison staff who described a seriously damaged woman transformed through faith behind bars. She has shown remorse and provided hope to struggling inmates while helping guards maintain control, they said.

“The spiritual transformation and depth of faith that Ms. Gissendaner demonstrates and practices is a deep and sincere expression of a personal relationship with God,” Prison chaplain Susan Bishop wrote. “It is not a superficial religious experience.”

Two of Gissendaner’s three children also asked the board to spare their mother’s life, describing their own emotional journey from anger and bitterness to forgiveness.

“The impact of losing my mother would be devastating. I can’t fathom losing another parent,” wrote her daughter, Kayla Gissendaner. “My mom has touched so many lives. Executing her doesn’t bring justice or peace to me or to anyone.”

But it also has been “a long, hard, heartbreaking road” for Douglas Gissendaner’s parents and sister, according to a statement from them issued through the Gwinnett County district attorney’s office. The family made it clear they wanted the execution to go forward.

Several dozen people gathered outside the prison in support of Gissendaner, including some women who served time with her.

Kara Tragesser recalled Gissendaner telling her “You can do better!” when she was put on lockdown while serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery.

“We’re here because Kelly’s made a difference in our lives,” Tragesser said.

Michelle Collins, who did time for forgery, remembered Gissendaner persuading her to stop misbehaving and start caring about her future.

“She looked around at us and said, ‘At least y’all are going to get out of here again. Who are you to throw your lives away when I’m never going to get out of here?'” said Collins.

“She gave me the will to do something good when I got out,” said Collins, adding that she now makes good money working for a Fortune 500 company. “She told me to make sure I never came back and I never have.”

A loud cheer came up from the crowd gathered outside the prison when they heard the execution had been postponed.

TIME Crime

Execution of Georgia Woman on Hold Pending Supreme Court Ruling

Death row inmate Kelly Renee Gissendaner is seen in an undated picture from the Georgia Department of Corrections
Georgia Department of Corrections/Reuters Death row inmate Kelly Renee Gissendaner is seen in an undated picture from the Georgia Department of Corrections.

The execution is on hold

(JACKSON, Ga.) — The execution of the first female in Georgia in 70 years was on hold Monday as the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed last-minute arguments by her lawyers that they hoped would persuade the nation’s top justices to grant a stay.

Kelly Renee Gissendaner, 46, was scheduled to die by injection of pentobarbital at 7 p.m. in the state prison for the February 1997 murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner.

Still pending was a response from the high court after an appellate court rejected her lawyers’ request for a delay on the grounds that Georgia’s lethal-injection procedures aren’t transparent enough to be challenged in court. Late Monday, her lawyers also added that the court should take into account the fact that she didn’t kill her husband herself, and that she had been thoroughly rehabilitated.

Previously, courts had found Gissendaner had plotted the stabbing death of her husband by her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, who will be up for parole in eight years after accepting a life sentence and testifying against her.

Gissendaner would be only the 16th woman put to death nationwide since the Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume in 1976. About 1,400 men have been executed since then, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only entity authorized to commute a death sentence, denied clemency last week and upheld that decision late Monday. The woman’s lawyers had urged the board to reconsider and “bestow mercy” by commuting her sentence to life without parole. The board said it voted to abide by its earlier decision after “careful consideration” of the request.

Kelly and Douglas Gissendaner had a troubled relationship, repeatedly splitting up and getting back together, divorcing and remarrying. She was a 28-year-old mother of three children, 12, 7 and 5 years old. And she had an on-again, off-again lover in Owen.

In prison, Gissendaner eventually took responsibility: Rather than divorcing her husband again, she pushed Owen to kill him. Acting on her instructions, Owen ambushed her husband while she went out dancing with friends, and forced him to drive to a remote area. Then he marched him into the woods and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said.

Owen and Gissendaner then met up and set fire to the dead man’s car in an attempted cover-up, and both initially denied involvement, but Owen eventually confessed and testified against his former girlfriend.

Her lawyers challenged the constitutionality of her sentence as disproportionate, given that she wasn’t there when Owen killed her husband, and yet Owen will eventually be eligible for parole. But Georgia’s Supreme Court voted 5-2 Monday to deny her motion, citing Owen’s testimony that she pushed for murder rather than divorce so that she could get her husband’s insurance money.

In their request Monday for reconsideration, Gissendaner’s lawyers said the parole board did not have a chance to hear the overwhelmingly positive testimony of many corrections employees who declined to speak up for fear of retaliation.

Her clemency petition already included testimonials from dozens of spiritual advisers, inmates and prison staff who described a seriously damaged woman transformed through faith behind bars. She has shown remorse and provided hope to struggling inmates while helping guards maintain control, they said.

“The spiritual transformation and depth of faith that Ms. Gissendaner demonstrates and practices is a deep and sincere expression of a personal relationship with God,” Prison chaplain Susan Bishop wrote. “It is not a superficial religious experience.”

Two of Gissendaner’s three children also asked the board to spare their mother’s life, describing their own emotional journey from anger and bitterness to forgiveness.

“The impact of losing my mother would be devastating. I can’t fathom losing another parent,” wrote her daughter, Kayla Gissendaner. “My mom has touched so many lives. Executing her doesn’t bring justice or peace to me or to anyone.”

But it also has been “a long, hard, heartbreaking road” for Douglas Gissendaner’s parents and sister, and they made it clear they want the execution to go forward, the Gwinnett County district attorney’s office said.

More than a dozen women who served time with Gissendaner gathered outside the prison to support her Monday afternoon.

Kara Tragesser recalled Gissendaner telling her “you can do better!” when she was put on lockdown while serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery.

“We’re here because Kelly’s made a difference in our lives,” Tragesser said.

Michelle Collins, who did time for forgery, remembered Gissendaner persuading her to stop misbehaving and start caring about her future.

“She looked around at us and said, ‘At least y’all are going to get out of here again. Who are you to throw your lives away when I’m never going to get out of here?'” said Collins.

“She gave me the will to do something good when I got out,” said Collins, adding that she now makes good money working for a Fortune 500 company. “She told me to make sure I never came back and I never have.”

TIME justice

Pennsylvania Stops Using the Death Penalty

Gov. Tom Wolf Caln speaks during a news conference at Elementary School on Feb. 11, 2015, in Thorndale, Pa.
Matt Rourke—AP Gov. Tom Wolf Caln speaks during a news conference at Elementary School on Feb. 11, 2015, in Thorndale, Pa.

The governor will grant temporary reprieves until the state reaches a final decision

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday that the state has effectively put a moratorium on the death penalty.

While Wolf awaits a report from a task force on the state’s use of capital punishment, he will grant temporary reprieves for all death row inmates whose executions are scheduled. That begins with Terrance Williams, who was slated to be executed on March 4.

Wolf noted said the moratorium “is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes.” But he also said capital punishment is expensive, possibly ineffective and sometimes inaccurate—six Pennsylvania men have been exonerated from death row.

TIME The Brief

#TheBrief: Why America Could Change How It Puts People to Death

3 Inmates in Oklahoma are challenging the use of certain drugs in executions

A new Supreme Court case could mean a change in the chemicals that prisons use for lethal injections. Watch #TheBrief to find out more.

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s New King Refused to Intervene in a Controversial Beheading

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud looks on during a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
Lintao Zhang—POOL/Reuters Saudi Arabia's King Salman looks on during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 13, 2014

An alleged rapist was executed Monday but many Saudis believe the case against him was shaky

A Saudi man accused of raping young girls was beheaded on Monday in the first execution under the administration of Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman.

Teacher Moussa al-Zahrani, 45, was beheaded in the western city of Jeddah, the Associated Press reports. The execution drew an unusual amount of debate on Saudi talk shows and social media, with citizens and relatives pointing out inconsistencies and gaps in evidence.

Al-Zahrani repeatedly maintained his innocence throughout his trial and appeals, and pleaded to the late Saudi King Abdullah to intervene in a video, which circulated widely in social media. The video featured al-Zahrani’s allegations that police framed him, eliciting a Twitter hashtag in Arabic “We are all Moussa al-Zahrani.”

However, King Salman, like his predecessor, chose not to intervene in the execution. Saudi Arabia continues to apply the death penalty to cases of rape, murder and other offenses according to the theocratic kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islamic law.

[AP]

TIME Qatar

Qatar Has Asked a U.S. Family if They Want Their Daughter’s Alleged Killer Executed

Prince Charles Visits Qatar - Day 2
Chris Jackson—Getty Images A general view of the skyline in Doha, Qatar, on Feb. 20, 2014

They also have the option to pardon him or get financial compensation

A Pennsylvania family is being asked to decide on whether the alleged killer of their daughter should be put to death in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar.

A Kenyan security guard reportedly confessed to murdering English teacher Jennifer Brown, 40, who was found dead in her company apartment in November 2012, Agence France-Presse says.

Qatari authorities have now asked Brown’s family whether they want to pardon the guard, get financial compensation from him, or have him executed.

Brown’s case has languished in Qatar’s courts because of slow witness testimony, eliciting disappointment from her family. An announcement of their decision is expected on March 8.

[AFP]

TIME Crime

Catholics Selected for the Boston Bomber Jury Could Be Going Against Their Faith

Jury Selection Begins For Tsarnaev Trial
John Tlumacki—Boston Globe/Getty Images Jury selection for the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber started on Jan. 5, 2015 at Moakley Federal Court. A jogger runs past police vehicles in front of the courthouse

There's a potential clash between jury selection criteria and Catholic teachings

There is a distinct possibility that many of Boston’s 2 million Roman Catholics won’t be able to perform jury service in the trial of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without violating their faith.

The criteria for selecting jurors requires them to be able to sentence the accused to death should that eventuality arise, USA Today reports.

According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, however, the death penalty must not be used if “nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor.”

“It is both ironic and unfortunate that Catholics who understand and embrace this teaching will be systematically excluded from the trial,” the Rev. James Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College, told USA Today.

Read more at USA Today.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 23

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

Today we’re highlighting five of our favorite “Best Ideas” from 2014.

1. Affirmative Action should be adapted to accommodate structural racism and America’s modern segregation.

By Sheryll Cashin in the Root

2. The death penalty is incompatible with human dignity.

By Charles Ogletree in the Washington Post

3. The border isn’t the problem: A detailed, map-powered breakdown of the real story behind this immigration crisis.

By Zack Stanton in the Wilson Quarterly

4. Forty lost years: the case for one six-year term for U.S. presidents.

By Lawrence Summers in the Financial Times

5. The wisdom of crowds: The CIA is learning a lot by aggregating the guesswork of ordinary Americans.

By Alix Spiegel at National Public Radio

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

Colorado Movie Theater Shooter’s Parents Plead for His Life

"He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness," James Holmes' parents said

The parents of the man accused of killing 12 people when he opened fire in a Colorado movie theater in 2012 are pleading that their mentally ill son be spared the death penalty.

In a letter published Friday in the Denver Post, Robert and Arlene Holmes argued that their son James has a “serious mental illness” and should be either imprisoned for the rest of his life or placed in an institution for the mentally ill, but not executed. “We have read postings on the Internet that have likened him to a monster,” the couple wrote. “He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness.

“We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill,” the added.

After multiple delays, jury selection for Holmes’ trial is scheduled in January. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

TIME Capital Punishment

U.S. Executions Reach a 20-Year Low

AP An independent autopsy of death row inmate Clayton Lockett, who was executed in April at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., ruled that Lockett died as a result from the drugs administered to him by prison officials and not from a heart attack.

It has been a tortured year for capital punishment in the U.S., with multiple botched executions, last-minute stays, and exonerations raising questions about the nation's ability to constitutionally met out the punishment

Amidst a nationwide reflection on the future of the death penalty in the U.S., the nation in 2014 reached a 20-year low in carried-out executions, the Death Penalty Information Center said in its annual report.

Seven states executed 35 people this year, the lowest number since 1994, said the think tank, which does not have a position on whether capital punishment should be banned. The number of executed prisoners nationwide has been in decline since 1999, when 98 death sentences were carried out.

Meanwhile, the number of people sentenced to death also dropped to a 40-year low of 72 people, the report found. There are 30 executions scheduled for 2015.

The center said that three botched executions, including the 43-minute ordeal of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, where all executions are now on hiatus, prompted a national re-examination of the death penalty and led to delays. In each of those bungled executions, the state relied on lethal injection drugs it sourced from providers it refused to name, as well as mixed in untested cocktails, according to the report.

Also at issue in a re-evaluation of capital punishment are inexact or violated protocols for measuring prisoners’ mental competence and eligibility for execution, as well as the threat of executing an innocent person, the center said. Seven death row inmates were exonerated this year, according to the center.

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