ATLANTA – Hers is a life measured by the dictates of Pulaski State Prison: when to rise, when to eat, when to go to bed so she can repeat the process the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. This is how Kelly Gissendaner’s life will unspool until the state of Georgia ends it.
That day may not be far off. Judicial officials on Friday issued a death warrant, Gissendaner’s third, for persuading her lover to kill her husband two decades ago. Her execution date is set for Sept. 29 and, if it proceeds, she would become the first woman Georgia has put to death since 1945.
That day will not arrive, say her supporters, without a chorus of cries that Gissendaner, 47, be spared the ultimate punishment. A loose-knit collection of former female convicts credits Gissendaner with giving them hope behind bars, ministering to them through an air vent. They are urging the state to reconsider her death sentence and let her live out her days in prison instead. The women call themselves Struggle Sisters.
Gissendaner acknowledges she coordinated the beating and stabbing death of her husband in 1997. She faced capital punishment twice earlier this year. Bad weather delayed one execution; a cloudy vial of lethal drugs prompted the second execution’s postponement.
Nikki Roberts, convicted of robbery, said Gissendaner urged her to sign up for teaching courses and suggested topics that Roberts might study. Roberts joined a choir. She became a prayer leader. Roberts, who was paroled last year, now works for an agency that teaches adult literacy.
“Killing Kelly is essentially killing hope,” said Roberts, 40. “Kelly is the poster child for redemption.”
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter believes that Gissendaner deserves the death penalty and accused her of manipulation in planning her husband’s slaying and in trying to avoid execution.
Gissendaner has never forgotten her crime, said her lead defense lawyer, Susan Casey. “She prays every day for the people she’s hurt,” said Casey.