Guards were willing to testify for clemency for Gissendaner

With less than an hour to go before Kelly Gissendaner’s scheduled execution, a Fulton County judge denied a motion filed to halt it on grounds prison guards and administrators were not allowed to testify for clemency on Gissendaner’s behalf.

Superior Court Judge Constance Russell said she felt she had no legal basis to force the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to follow proper procedure after it had already made a final decision today denying Gissendaner’s bid for clemency.

“Under Georgia law, I don’t believe I have the ability to do that,” Russell said, about 30 minutes before the scheduled 7 p.m. execution.

Russell allowed Gissendaner’s lawyers to appeal her decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. Gissendaner also has a separate appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gissendaner is scheduled to die by lethal injection for the 1997 murder of her husband.

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Beth Wells, one of Gissendaner’s lawyers, told Russell that a number of prison officials who’d come to know Gissendaner wanted to speak up on her behalf. But earlier this year, the warden at Lee Arrendale State Prison, where Gissendaner was incarcerated at that time, instructed employees not to discuss the case with anyone outside the institution.

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For this reason, prison officials did not want to come forward and testify on Gissendaner’s behalf, Wells said. “They felt that their jobs were in danger.”

State attorneys argued that Gissendaner had already made such an argument in federal court and because that was rejected she had no basis to raise the issue once again in another court. But Russell rejected that argument, noting that the parole board had held another clemency hearing after that federal court decision, including a decision that had been made today.

Russell then focused on a provision in state law that indicated the prison warden had to submit a report about the inmate to the parole board when it considered clemency for Gissendaner.

Was that done on this occasion? Russell asked state attorneys. They said they didn’t know.

Russell then allowed a brief recess to let state attorney Sabrina Graham call the parole board to see if it had received the warden’s report. After about 15 minutes, Russell returned to the bench and learned from Graham that she had been unable to reach anyone at the parole board.

It was then when Russell said she realized she could not issue an order requiring the parole board to do something after it had made its final decision.

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