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Georgia to execute first woman in 70 years by lethal injection

Ahead of a winter storm, Georgia officials decided on Wednesday to delay the execution of Kelly Renee Gissendaner until Monday.
This undated photo shows the death chamber at the Georgia Diagnostic Prison in Jackson, Ga.
This undated photo shows the death chamber at the Georgia Diagnostic Prison in Jackson, Ga.

Of the 470 people Georgia has executed since 1924, only one was a woman. That statistic was set to change for the first time in nearly 70 years on Wednesday when the state was scheduled to execute Kelly Renee Gissendaner. However, officials decided on Wednesday to delay the execution until Monday. 

Georgia, which is expecting several inches of snow in the Atlanta and in northern part of the state, declared a state of emergency starting on Wednesday at 2 p.m.

The 46-year-old woman was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. in Georgia. Gissendaner, who is the only female inmate on death row in the state, will also be the first woman executed there since 1945. On Wednesday morning, a parole board denied her last-minute appeal for clemency. 

Gissendaner's last meal request was released by the state, and it will include everything from boiled eggs and buttermilk to cheeseburgers and french-fries.

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Concerns of whether or not the lethal injections are cruel and unusual have opened up calls for more transparency on the process. The botched and gruesome execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma brought the issue to the forefront in April of 2014. Since then, numerous states have halted lethal injections and the U.S. Supreme Court will consider lethal injection procedures.  

“Following a string of botched executions in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Ohio, we know that the risk of excruciating torture in lethal injection is real,” said Sara Totonchi, the executive director for the Southern Center for Human Rights. “When an execution procedure is shrouded in secrecy, it is hardly surprising that the result is a horribly bungled and gruesome execution. For this reason, it is unacceptable for Georgia move forward with any executions while concealing the source of its lethal injection drug.”

Gissendaner was convicted for the February 1997 murder of her husband, Doug. According to court documents, she was unhappy with her marriage and romantically involved with another man, Gregory Owen. According to Owen, he initially suggested that Gissendaner file for divorce. However, she allegedly felt that divorce would not be enough to make Douglas — who was also the father of her three children — leave her alone. Gissendaner reportedly conspired to kill Doug and convinced Owen to carry out her plan.   

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Under Gissendaner’s direction, Owen had kidnapped Douglas, brought him to the woods, clubbed him in the head and stabbed him in the neck. Owen had later confessed to the murder and testified against Kelly, in exchange for a life sentence. Kelly was convicted of murder and sentenced in November 1998 to death.

On March 5, 1945, Lena Baker — whose story has sparked numerous books and movies — was the last woman executed in Georgia. Baker said she killed her employer in self-defense after he held her against her will. The African-American woman was later convicted of murder by a jury of 12 white men. In 2005, she was granted a full pardon by the state, which acknowledged that a “grievous error” was made and that she should have could have been charged with manslaughter in place of her death sentence.