Kelly Gissendaner Gets New Shot at Clemency on Eve of Execution

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By Tracy Connor

The Georgia parole board has agreed to let death-row inmate Kelly Gissendaner make a new bid for clemency, just hours before her scheduled execution.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles, which rejected a clemency bid from Gissendaner in February, will meet at 11 a.m. Tuesday "in order to receive and consider supplemental information" from her defense team.

After the meeting, the board has three options: let the earlier denial stand, issue a stay so it can consider the new information, or commute her sentence to life.

Gissendaner was sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of her husband at the hands of her lover, who is serving a life sentence.

In their request for reconsideration to the board, Gissendaner's lawyers said it was unfair that the person who actually carried out the crime got a less severe punishment than she did.

They also argued that Gissendaner would have pleaded guilty for a life sentence but was talked out of it by her trial attorney.

Kelly Gissendaner hugs her daughter Kayla as she celebrates her graduation from a prison theology program in 2011.Ann Borden / Emory University

Her case drew national attention earlier this year when hundreds of clergy made a plea for clemency, noting that she had taken part in a theology program and was a model prisoner, and the application to the parole board included testimony from other prisoners counseled by Gissendaner.

"Because Kelly was housed on the most secure wing, she frequently found herself by women who were at the end of their rope," the application says. "To each, Kelly was a beacon of hope."

The mother of three was waiting to be executed in March when prison officials suddenly halted the process, saying they had detected cloudiness in the drugs being used for the lethal injection.

They later said the chemical had been kept at too low a temperature and that precautions would be taken to avoid a repeat.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has made criminal justice reform a centerpiece of his administration, but he has no power to grant clemency. However, he did appoint three of the five members of the parole board.