The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has declined to commute the death sentence of a local woman scheduled to be executed tonight, despite a plea from Pope Francis to do so.
In a Sept. 29 letter to members of the board, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., asked for clemency in the case of inmate Kelly Gissendaner.
“As the personal representative of His Holiness Pope Francis to the United States of America, I make an urgent appeal, on his behalf, for the commutation of the death sentence of Ms. Kelly Gissendaner, who is scheduled to be executed later today,” the letter read.
It quoted Pope Francis’ speech to a joint session of Congress last week, in which the Holy Father reiterated his call for an abolition of the death penalty, saying, “I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
Gissendaner was convicted of convincing her boyfriend, Greg Owen, to murder her husband Douglas in 1997.
She has received a death sentence and is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Atlanta. Owen is currently serving a sentence of life without parole.
While acknowledging the gravity of the crime and expressing sympathy for victims, the letter from the Pope’s representative asked the board members to “commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy.”
Last week, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory sent a similar letter to the board. While acknowledging that the state has “the right and the duty to seek justice” for the crime committed, he nevertheless asked for mercy for Gissendaner “simply because she is a child of God, and our Christian faith teaches us that the life of every human person has worth and dignity.”
Citing the need to balance justice and charity, Archbishop Gregory asked for clemency, saying that a sentence of life without parole would be compatible with that goal.
Gissendaner has voiced remorse for her actions. She accepted full responsibility in a statement, saying that she had become bitter and self-centered, losing judgment.
“I will never understand how I let myself fall into such evil, but I have learned first-hand that no one, not even me, is beyond redemption through God’s grace and mercy,” she said in the statement, which was included in the February 2015 clemency application.
“I have learned to place my hope in the God I now know…I rely on the steadfast and never-ending love of God.”