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Justice, Revenge, and Mercy

In Georgia, a woman is scheduled to be put to death this evening for the death of her husband.  Kelly Renee Gissendaner was convicted for the 1997 murder of Douglas Gissendaner.  She and her husband had remarried after divorcing a couple of years earlier, and apparently she wanted out again, but didn’t want to deal with him post-divorce.

She conspired with her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, to kill her husband.  She provided Owen with a nightstick and a hunting knife, which he used to abduct and murder her husband.  She met him at the murder site, then aided him in covering up the crime.  They burned Douglas Gissendaner’s car and stole his wallet to make it look like a robbery gone wrong, and left his body in the woods to be chewed upon by animals.

Both she and Owen, who did the actual killing, were offered the same plea deal – life without parole for at least 25 years.  Owen took the deal and testified against Mrs. Gissendaner after she turned down the deal.  Owen will be eligible to apply for parole in a few years.

An Internet search cannot find any argument that she had reason to conspire with her boyfriend to murder her husband.  I can find no allegations of abuse, which might mitigate their guilt.  All I can find is that a woman conspired with another man to kill her husband, the father of her children, rather than go through divorce again.

As a side note, it appears that when she found out that Owen had confessed to the murder and was implicating her, she tried to bribe a third party to also confess, thereby muddying the waters.

Now, 18 years after the crime, she is asking to be given clemency.  During her time in prison, she claims that she has turned her life around.  She has achieved a degree in theology.  According to the testimony at her clemency hearing, she is a model prisoner and shows remorse for her actions. She is asking for mercy because she has grown into a good person.

If only her husband had been shown the same mercy in February 1997.  He died in pain, cold, and alone in the woods.

She is scheduled to die by lethal injection, in a warm room and on a bed,  this evening, probably not much more than an hour after I publish this.

This raises a few questions:

1.  Does it matter that she is a woman when it comes to getting the death penalty?

Honestly, no.  She was a willing participant in the death of her husband.  That is all that matters on whether or not she deserved the punishment appropriate to the crime.

2.  Does it matter that she is not the one who clubbed her husband unconscious, then stabbed him repeatedly?

No.  She arranged for the murder, she provided the murder weapon, and she helped in the attempt to cover it up.  She is just as culpable as Owen.

3.  Is it right that Owen is serving 25 years to life while she faces the death penalty?

This is a tougher one for me.  Same crime, same punishment, right?  However, since she was offered the same deal and turned it down, I have to say that when she gambled on a trial, she gambled on the punishment she could have gotten.  Her trial lawyer claims that he told her that he didn’t think she’d get the death penalty, but she had to know that it was a possibility, even if only a slight one.

4.  Does it matter if, in the intervening years, she has found a righteous path in life, and has become a force for good for the people in her life?

I’m saddened to say that it does not.  She did the crime.  What she has done since then is immaterial.  Her husband is dead.  She helped to kill him.  She refused to take a plea deal that would have kept the death penalty off the table.  That is all that matters.

We are called to pray for the sinful and to minister to prisoners.  It sounds like she’s been ministered to, and I hope that makes a difference to her.  I also hope that those of you who pray will take a few moments tonight to pray for her soul.  But her life was forfeit the moment she put a night stick and a hunting knife in her boyfriend’s hands, then left her husband’s body to lie in the woods.  The fact that she’s a woman who has found some purpose in her life since that night means nothing.

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  1. Agree with all. She had multiple choices, and went down a bad road… Now she has to pay the ultimate penalty.

  2. auntiejl

     /  March 3, 2015

    My husband is a youth pastor, and we are both people of faith. The death penalty is one area where we struggle to agree (he thinks that death is too easy; I have mixed feelings about its application, but respect that it is the law in certain states). However, one thing that I consistently see in these kinds of cases is how becoming a person of faith should expunge the guilt of the convicted…and I disagree with that. I am not in a position to say whether or not her spiritual experience is real; God can be the only judge of that. Likewise, the ability to expunge guilt and consequences thereof is something that is solely God’s domain. I don’t like to be skeptical of those who claim a life-changing faith experience behind bars, but I am. It seems to me that someone who truly has been changed, become a new creature in Christ as the bible describes, should also acknowledge that this is the ultimate salvation of the life of the soul, not necessarily the body, and that person must also admit that they are guilty of the crimes charged and be willing to accept the rightful consequences. Having a life-changing faith experience behind bars doesn’t change the fact that one still must face the consequences for previous choices and actions. Just because my daughter confesses her lie and begs forgiveness does not mean that she will necessarily escape the consequences handed down for lying. By the same token, this woman chose to plot the murder of her husband. Granted, it’s just my opinion, but if she’s truly changed, she would be admitting that, yes, she is equally culpable in the death of her husband (her husband would not have died had she not cajoled her boyfriend into action and provided him with the necessary weapons), and that she deserves the lawful sentence handed down by the court. No one wants to die, and certainly not at the hands of the department of corrections, but, if her faith is genuine, she knows where she’s going.

  3. Steve

     /  March 4, 2015

    They did not carry out the execution due to “cloudy” drugs.

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