Last-Minute Clemency Denied For Kelly Gissendaner

Brandon Brookshire sits with Kelly Gissendaner’s two other children Tuesday at a last-minute hearing of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles. Brookshire testified why his mother deserved clemency, according to those close to the case.


The Georgia Pardons and Paroles Board Tuesday afternoon denied Kelly Gissendaner’s last-minute plea for clemency, despite an appeal from Pope Francis to spare her life.

Gissendaner was convicted of orchestrating the murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner, in 1997.  But unlike most death penalty cases, Kelly Gissendaner did not actually commit the murder, nor was she present when a co-defendant carried it out.

Gregory Owen, her lover, stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death. Owen took a plea deal and is serving life in prison; however, he will be eligible for parole in 2023.

The Pardons and Parole Board twice ruled against Gissendanner, but agreed to hear what it called “supplemental” information.

The Rev. Cathy Zappa reacts Tuesday to the Pardons and Paroles Board’s decision to go forward with Kelly Gissendaner’s execution. “This decision will not bring healing,” Zappa told reporters. (JIM BURRESS/WABE)

During Tuesday’s hearing, board chair Terry Barnard said that information included testimony from Gissendaner’s son, Brandon Brookshire. Gissendaner’s two other children were also in the hearing room. It’s not clear if they also spoke on their mother’s behalf. That’s because the Board voted unanimously to close the hearing to the public, citing the “sensitive nature” of the case.

Pardons and Paroles spokesman Steve Hayes said the board had several options: allow its February decision stand, issue a stay of up to 90 days to further consider the case, or grant clemency and commute the sentence to life with or without the possibility of parole.

Hayes said the board’s reasoning is confidential, so it’s unclear why its five members decided to go forward with Gissendaner’s execution.

Rev. Cathy Zappa, who ministered to Kelly Gissendaner and came to consider her as a friend, said she didn’t know how to feel. Zappa said Gissendaner was prepared for whatever happens, be it a last-minute reprieve or the carrying out of her sentence.