040706 - ATLANTA, GA -- Kelly Gissendaner, the only woman on Georgia's death row, eats lunch in her 9-by-12 cell at Metro State Prison in Atlanta Tuesday, July 6, 2004. The shelving unit at right holds all her possessions. She's photographed through the slot in her cell door through which guards pass Gissendaner her lunch tray and other items throughout the day. (BITA HONARVAR/STAFF)

Parole board denies clemency appeal for Gissendaner, execution set

UPDATE: With less than five hours before her scheduled execution, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles again denied Kelly Gissendaner’s request that her death sentence be commuted to life in prison for plotting her husband’s 1997 murder.

This was the second time the board has turned her down. The five-member board — with two of them participating via phone — heard a plea from Gissendaner’s oldest, Brandon Brookshire, for about 45 minutes Tuesday morning. And then they heard again from the family of her dead husband, Douglas Gissendaner.

How the five members voted was not released because that detail is considered a state secret. But it takes three votes to resolve an issue.

ORIGINAL STORY: Pope Francis has asked the state Board of Pardons and Paroles not to execute Kelly Gissendaner, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

The pope, back in Rome after a six-day visit to the United States, sent the letter Tuesday through a representative, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

“While not wishing to minimize the gravity of the crime for which Ms. Gissendander has been convicted, and while sympathizing with the victims, I nonetheless implore you, in consideration of the reasons that have been expressed to your board, to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy,” Vigano wrote.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta has scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the letter.

During his visit to the United States, the pope called for the abolition of the death penalty.

Gissendaner is scheduled to be executed aqt 7 p.m. Tuesday for engineering the killing of her husband in 1997.

The letter was provided to the AJC by Gissendaner’s attorneys. They made a second appearance before the board seeking clemency on Tuesday morning. The board has yet to rule.

All three of Kelly Gissendaner’s children were in the meeting with the board but only the oldest of her children, Brandon Brookshire, spoke. Earlier this year, only his siblings, Kayla Gissendaner and Dakota Brookshire, appeared before the board andhave been involved in a vigorous campaign seeking to spare her from execution.

They were sequestered with the board about 45 minutes and left by a back way to avoid the media, local as well as national.

Board spokesman Steve Hayes said the board would hear from others but he would not disclose who because the law makes that information a state secret.

But on Monday, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said Douglas Gissendaner’s family planned to speak to the board via phone.

Only three of the five members met in person with Gissendaner’s three adult children. The other two listened in via phone.

Also Monday U.S. District Court Judge Thomas stood by his decision from several weeks ago that Gissendaner’s constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment was not violated when her execution set for last March was delayed, reset and ultimately postponed within the space of a day because the lethal injection drugs were cloudy.

Officials were concerned the drugs would not be effective or would cause intense pain if used.

The state put executions on hold in March because the lethal injection drug prepared to put Gissendaner to death then was cloudy and could cause pain or not be effective.

In mid-April, DOC said the drug appeared off because it had been stored in conditions too cold. Otherwise, the drug was fine, Corrections said.

Return for updates.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.