That’s right. The State of Georgia is planning, for the first time since 1945, to execute a woman, a woman whose crime actually was carried out by someone else.
Kelly Gissendaner was convicted of planning the 1997 murder of her husband and was sentenced to death. The man who actually committed the crime, Kelly’s boyfriend at the time, was sentenced to life in prison but will eventually be released on parole. Kelly was not present when the crime was committed.
Since her conviction she has been in solitary confinement with very little face-to-face contact with anyone other than prison officials and chaplains. Two times the state has scheduled her execution, and both times the execution had to be postponed.
The first time the execution was scheduled (February, 2015), Kelly was incarcerated at Arrendale State Prison in north Georgia, the prison where I was working as a teacher. For the execution to take place she had to be transported about a two-hour drive away to Jackson, Ga where the state execution chamber is located, but a winter storm made that travel impossible.
The second time the execution was scheduled, my husband and I participated in a public prayer vigil held near our home, while perhaps hundreds of other people kept vigil outside the prison where the execution was to take place. I took this photo that night. Many people at the vigil interpreted the appearance of the moon through the clouds to be a sign that Kelly would be spared.
Now, however, the execution has been rescheduled again for this coming Tuesday night. Many, many people have written more eloquently than I ever could about Kelly’s case. Within the State of Georgia the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church, the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, many Baptist churches, and many other faith leaders have taken up Kelly’s cause. Amnesty International is supporting her as are a retired Deputy Director in the State Department of Corrections and a former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
There are legal, constitutional, religious, and humanitarian arguments for sparing Kelly’s life. While on death row she has experienced a religious awakening, a conversion, and has received a Certificate of Theological Studies from the Candler School of Theology. Everyone who knows her says that this is no “jailhouse conversion” but is a truly life-changing transformation.
But some of the most compelling arguments for sparing Kelly’s life come from former prison inmates whose lives she saved while on death row. Because she is the only woman in the state sentenced to death, no matter which women’s prison she has been in, she is housed in the same section of the prison as those women who are placed on “lock down.” Although Kelly can’t see those women, she has become a voice of encouragement as she talks to those other inmates through the vents. She talks them out of self harm and suicide and encourages them to live better lives once they are out of prison. A number of those women who have now been released, and are living successful lives, call themselves the Struggle Sisters and they, too, are calling for Kelly’s life to be spared.
I continue to support those who ask that Kelly’s sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole. If you are so inclined, please remember Kelly and pray for her as we stand vigil for her on Tuesday night. With a miracle, her life will be spared.
You can find out more about the movement supporting Kelly by going to the Facebook page: