Execution of Georgia Woman Is Postponed Indefinitely

ATLANTA — The state of
Georgia on Monday night
indefinitely delayed the
execution of the only woman
on its death row after
officials noticed that the drug
to be used for a lethal
injection had become
“cloudy.”
The inmate, Kelly R.
Gissendaner, who was
sentenced to death for
arranging the murder of her
husband in 1997, had been
scheduled to be put to death
at 7 p.m. at the state prison in
Jackson, southeast of Atlanta,
but officials held off because
the United States Supreme
Court was considering her
appeal.
About 11 p.m., with the
Supreme Court’s decision still
pending, prison authorities
said that the execution had
been postponed.
“Within hours leading up to
the scheduled execution, the
execution team performed
the necessary checks,”
Gwendolyn Hogan, a
spokeswoman for the Georgia
Department of Corrections,
said early Tuesday in an
email. “At that time, the
drugs appeared cloudy. The
Department of Corrections
immediately consulted with a
pharmacist and in an
abundance of caution, inmate
Gissendaner’s execution has
been postponed.”
Ms. Hogan said that a
previous screening of the
lethal injection drug that was
to be used for Ms.
Gissendaner’s execution had
returned results “within the
acceptable testing limits.”
Georgia uses a single drug —
pentobarbital, a barbiturate
— for its lethal injections. The
state has not revealed much
else about its execution
procedures, including the
name of the company that
provides the drug.
The Georgia Supreme Court
last year upheld a state law
that declared certain details
of executions, like the name
of the drug provider, to be “a
confidential state secret.”
The federal courts have
agreed, with one judge
writing last year that the
Georgia authorities “have a
strong interest” in carrying
out executions properly.
“Botched executions lead to
embarrassment,
investigations, bad press,
and, perhaps worst of all for
the individuals involved, the
knowledge that they caused
an individual needless pain
and suffering,” Judge
Timothy C. Batten Sr., of the
Federal District Court in
Atlanta, wrote in June when
he rejected an appeal from
Marcus Wellons.
Mr. Wellons was executed in
Jun e and was the first person
put to death in the United
States after a botched
execution in Oklahoma
prompted renewed questions
about capital punishment.
For Ms. Gissendaner,
Monday’s postponement was
the second time in less than a
week that state officials, not
the courts, had put off her
execution. She had been
scheduled to die last
Wednesday, but Georgia
officials, citing a winter
storm, moved the execution
to Monday.
In the last week, the State
Board of Pardons and Paroles
has twice refused Ms.
Gissendaner’s bids for
clemency, and the appeals
that could have been among
her last were pending only
before the Supreme Court,
having been rejected by
judges elsewhere.
Ms. Gissendaner does not
deny that she helped to
orchestrate the death of her
husband, Douglas, who was
stabbed in the neck at least
eight times by Gregory Owen,
a man with whom Ms.
Gissendaner had a
relationship.
The Gissendaners had a
troubled marriage, and the
Georgia attorney general’s
office said that the couple
had divorced in 1993 and
remarried in 1995. Within
months, the couple had
separated again, with Mr.
Gissendaner filing for
divorce, before reconciling.
But by November 1996, the
authorities said, Ms.
Gissendaner had suggested
for the first time to Mr. Owen
that she wanted Mr.
Gissendaner to die.
Ultimately, the state said, “It
was agreed that, on Feb. 7,
1997, while Gissendaner was
out with friends, co-
defendant Owen would kill
Douglas. The murder went
exactly as Gissendaner
planned.”
Mr. Owen reached a plea
agreement with prosecutors
in Gwinnett County, near
Atlanta, and could be paroled
as early as 2023. A jury
convicted Ms. Gissendaner in
November 1998 and, one day
later, recommended that she
be sentenced to death.
Ms. Gissendaner’s lawyers
cited the contrasting
sentences in their plea to the
Board of Pardons and
Paroles, as well as what they
described as evidence that
Ms. Gissendaner was “deeply
remorseful.”
“There are no excuses for
what I did,” Ms. Gissendaner
said in a statement that was
included in her clemency
application. “I am fully
responsible for my role in my
husband’s murder. I had
become so self-centered and
bitter about my life and who I
had become, that I lost all
judgment.”
She added that she had
“learned to place my hope in
the God I now know.”
Her clemency applications
were rejected.
The state did not
immediately announce a
rescheduling of Ms.
Gissendaner’s execution. The
court order for execution,
which can be reissued,
expires at noon on
Wednesday.