Judge Dismisses Lawsuit By Georgia’s Only Woman on Death Row

Kelly Gissendaner, convicted in the murder of her husband in Gwinnett, was to die March 2, but ‘cloudy’ lethal drug forced postponement.

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit By Georgia's Only Woman on Death Row

A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Georgia death row inmate Kelly Gissendaner, who claimed she was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment on the day of her postponed execution.

The March 2 execution was postponed indefinitely when authorities found a cloudy appearance in the drug to be used for the lethal injection.

According to media reports, the lawsuit was dismissed Monday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash, who said Gissendaner failed to show her Eighth Amendment rights had been violated.

Gissendaner, Georgia’s only woman on death row, was sentenced to die for masterminding the 1997 murder of her husband in Gwinnett County.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the suit dismissal clears the way for the state to re-schedule Gissendaner’s execution. There was no word on when that might be.


Gissendaner was scheduled to die by lethal injection on March 2, but was postponed at the last minute when authorities decided not to use the drug. The execution was scheduled for 7 p.m.; the postponement wasn’t announced until around 11 p.m.

Gissendaner’s suit claimed she was put through undue “mortal fear” as she waited for officials to make a decision on whether or not to use the drug, and charged the state”botched” the execution by failing to have the proper drugs in place for a humane death. The suit also claimed that secrecy surrounding the drugs used for executions in Georgia prevented Gissendaner from proving the execution method could be unconstitutional.

Thrash wrote in his decision, “If anything, the March 2 incident shows that the State is unlikely to use defective drugs,” according to the Associated Press.

Gissendaner, of Auburn, Ga., was convicted of plotting the murder of her husband, Douglas, near Dacula in 1997. If executed, she would be the first woman put to death in Georgia in 70 years.

She was found guilty of convincing her boyfriend Gregory Owen to murder Douglas Gissendaner on Feb. 7, 1997, then went to lengths to deny her involvement, prosecutors said. Owen, who was sentenced to life in prison, avoided the death penaltyby helping prosecutors in the case against Gissendaner.

Authorities said Douglas Gissendaner, a Desert Storm veteran, was beaten and stabbed to death by Owen in a secluded wooded area off Luke Edwards Road near Dacula. The body was found two weeks later.

The attorney general’s office said Owen was waiting for Douglas Gissendaner to return home from a night with church friends, and then took him by knifepoint to the Luke Edwards location. Owen forced the man to his knees, then beat him with a night stick and stabbed him multiple times in the head and neck. Owen took the man’s ring and watch to make it appear it was a robbery.

The attorney general’s office also said Kelly Gissendaner arrived at the scene as the stabbing occurred, and the two took her husband’s vehicle and set it on fire within a mile of the murder scene.

Gissendaner appeared on local television asking for information on her husband’s whereabouts, but authorities said she “basically continued business as usual, even going back to work” in the days after the murder. She gave conflicting stories during interviews with investigators, saying at first there were no marital problems and later admitting to an extra-marital affair with Owen.

Owen confessed to the crime on Feb. 24 and implicated Gissendaner, who was arrested the next day.

Gissendaner was convicted by jury trial on Nov. 18, 1998.


Photo: Kelly Gissendaner; Georgia Dept. of Corrections



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