ATLANTA – Two-dozen or so priests and other ministers delivered 26,000 petitions to Gov. Nathan Deal’s office asking him to use his influence to halt tonight’s scheduled execution.

“We are purportedly a Christian state, but this execution is just state-sponsored mob violence,” said the Right Rev. Rob Wright, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. “It’s a lynching.”

Kelly Gissendaner, a 47-year-old Auburn woman, is scheduled to undergo lethal injection at 7 p.m. for the murder of her husband Doug in 1997. She was denied clemency last week after her attorneys took the allotted morning hearing Tuesday before the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Her attorneys filed an emergency motion today for a 90-day stay to allow them to present more than the 21 witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing.

Her supporters note that Gissendaner is remorseful and has embraced Christianity.

At this morning’s press conference, the preachers said that was one reason to spare her life.

“She doesn’t have a jailhouse conversion,” said Deacon Richard Tolcher, director of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta’s prison ministry. “She has a sincere-and-true different life today than the day she walked into the prison.”

Deal has no formal power to stop executions. That was taken away from Georgia governors decades ago as a reform against the sale of pardons. Now the five-member Paroles Board has sole authority to commute death sentences to a life sentence.

Gissendaner’s supporters note that she has been a calming influence on other inmates.

“I wouldn’t be here today if not for Kelly,” said Kara Tragesser, a former inmate who now works for the Mercy Junction Center of Chattanooga. “There are thousands of us that have the same story.”

Prosecutors counter that Gissendaner plotted her husband’s murder by convincing her boyfriend to kidnap him, beat him and stab him to death while she staged an alibi with friends. The boyfriend, Gregory Owen, confessed and testified against Gissendaner, telling the court that she repeatedly rejected his suggestions that she simply get a divorce.

Prosecutors say she wanted to collect a life-insurance award. And while she was awaiting trial, she allegedly sought to hire another accomplice to falsely confess to holding her at gunpoint and making her go to the murder scene.

They also point out that her remorse may not be entirely genuine since she has continued to allow her attorneys to file five appeals claiming technicalities prevented her from getting a fair trial.

Gissendaner is the only woman on Georgia’s death row and would be the first one executed in this state 70 years. She would also be the first person executed since 1976 in Georgia who was not the actual “trigger person,” who in this case was Owen. For his confession, Owen was given a life sentence while Gissendaner got the death sentence.


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