After temporary delay because of winter weather Ga. set to carry out rare execution of a woman

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HFM LATE PM FEB 23** FILE -In this Tuesday, July 6, 2004 file photo, Kelly Gissendaner, the only woman on Georgia's death row, peers through the slot in her cell door as a guard brings her a cup of ice at Metro State Prison in Atlanta. Gissendaner, 46, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, at the state prison in Jackson. She was convicted of murder in the 1997 slaying of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bita Honarvar)


ATLANTA — After getting a temporary reprieve when her execution was postponed because of winter weather conditions forecast to hit the state, the only woman on Georgia's death row is again set for execution Monday.

Kelly Renee Gissendaner, 46, was scheduled to be executed Wednesday at the state prison in Jackson, but the Department of Corrections postponed it to Monday at 7 p.m., citing the weather and associated scheduling issues.

Gissendaner was convicted of murder in the February 1997 stabbing death of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. Prosecutors said she plotted his death with her boyfriend, Gregory Owen.

Gissendaner told police her husband didn't return home Feb. 7, 1997, from dinner with friends in Lawrenceville, just outside Atlanta. His burned-out car was found two days later. His body was found about a week after that, roughly a mile from the car, in a remote wooded area. He had been stabbed several times.

Kelly and Douglas Gissendaner had a troubled relationship, splitting up and getting back together multiple times, including divorcing and remarrying, according to information provided by the state attorney general's office. Kelly Gissendaner repeatedly pushed Owen in late 1996 to kill her husband rather than just divorcing him as Owen suggested, prosecutors said.

Acting on Kelly Gissendaner's instructions, Owen ambushed Douglas Gissendaner at the Gissendaners' home, forced him to drive to a remote area and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said

Owen pleaded guilty and received a life prison sentence with eligibility for parole after 25 years. He testified at Gissendaner's trial, and a jury convicted her and sentenced her to death in 1998.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only entity in Georgia authorized to commute a death sentence, on Wednesday denied Gissendaner clemency. A federal judge in Atlanta rejected a request to halt her execution, and her lawyers have appealed that decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

If Gissendaner's execution happens, she will be the first woman executed in Georgia in 70 years.

Lena Baker, a black maid, was executed in 1945 after being convicted in a one-day trial for killing her white employer. Georgia officials issued her a pardon in 2005 after six decades of lobbying and arguments by her family that she likely killed the man because he was holding her against her will. Baker was the only woman to die in the state's electric chair.

Execution of female inmates is rare with only 15 women put to death nationwide since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed the death penalty to resume. During that same time, about 1,400 men have been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Prosecutors offered Gissendaner the same plea deal that was offered to Owen, but she turned it down. Post-conviction testimony from her trial lawyer, Edwin Wilson, gives some insight into why, Gissendaner's lawyers argued in a clemency petition. They quote Wilson as saying he didn't think a jury would sentence Gissendaner to death.

"I guess I thought this because she was a woman and because she did not actually kill Doug," Wilson is quoted as saying, adding that he should have urged her to take the plea.

Victor Streib, a retired Ohio Northern University law professor and an expert on the death penalty for women, said it's clear that women are condemned to die far less frequently than men, but that there are so few cases that it's tough to draw any general conclusions.

"Statistically, yes, if you've got two cases and everything about them is exactly the same and one case is a woman and the other case is a man, the man is more likely to be sentenced to death," Streib said, but added that he wouldn't count on that as a legal strategy.

One reason women aren't sentenced to death as often is that they don't commit as many murders and when they do they generally aren't the "worst of the worst" murders that lead to the death penalty, Streib said.

Juries may also be more likely to believe a woman was emotionally distressed or not in her right mind at the time of a killing, which can spare them a death sentence, he said.

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