Gissendaner cites 'mortal fear' in asking court to stop execution

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Doomed convict Kelly Renee Gissendaner is asking a federal judge to declare her pending execution unconstitutional because she claims Georgia “botched” it by not having proper drugs to kill her humanely and then put her through an agonizing wait until deciding to delay her death until it was certain it had a proper batch of lethal-injection drugs.

On March 2, as she was waiting in a cell just a few steps from the death chamber, corrections officials called Gissendaner’s lawyers,to say the execution would be postponed for several days because the pentobarbital made specifically for Gissendaner’s execution was “cloudy.

A federal lawsuit filed on her behalf Monday says the aborted attempt to execute her “combined with the hours of mortal fear to which they subjected her” constituted a great increase of her punishment in violation of the cruel and unusual punishment prohibitions in the Constitution.

“Even now she waits, knowing that Defendants will reset her execution as soon as they choose, with no assurances – beyond Defendants’ demonstrably empty promises – that the next batch of drugs will be any more humane than their last,” the lawsuit claims.

If the court elects not to declare the execution unconstitutional, Gissendaner is asking the court to block her execution until both her lawyers and the court conduct a “meaningful investigation” into her failed execution to determine whether the next attempt will meet constitutional muster. The state should not be allowed to investigate itself, the court filing said.

Gissendaner was scheduled to be executed March 2 after she had exhausted her appeals and the state board of pardons and parole had denied her clemency. The 46-year-old woman is scheduled to be executed for the 1997 murder of her husband if she is executed, Gissendaner will be the first woman Georgia has executed since 1945 and the 16th woman put to death nationwide since executions resumed in 1976.

Gissendaner was condemned for planning her husband’s murder and persuading her lover, Gregory Owen, to carry it out. Owen, who pleaded guilty and helped prosecute Gissendaner, is serving a life sentence and is eligible for parole.

For the second time in four years Georgia has decided to put a moratorium on executions after questions surfaced about the origin and effectiveness of increasingly hard to get lethal-injection drugs.

The Georgia Department of Corrections announced the day after Gissendaner's execution was halted that it was postponing it indefinitely. Brian Keith Terrell's upcoming execution was also put on hold.

The state wants to test its supply of the sedative pentobarbital to be sure it’s effective. A prison system pharmacist said the dosage prepared to execute Gissendaner gthagt night night looked “cloudy,” and documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows the prison system may have been confused about which batch of the drug had been tested.

Staff writer Rhonda Cook contributed to this story.

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