Former Ga. chief justice regrets vote in Gissendaner case

Former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher, who opposes capital punishment, said in a statement he wished had he dissented 15 years ago when the court ruled Kelly Gissendaner’s death sentence was proportional, even though her co-defendant was sentenced to life for her husband’s murder.

Fletcher was not yet chief justice when the court ruled unanimously in 2000 to uphold Gissendaner’s sentence for plotting the 1997 murder of her husband. The opinion cited several reasons she was more culpable than her former lover who murdered Douglas Gissendaner, while Kelly Gissendaner spent the evening with friends, driving to the place where her husband was killed just as he died.

Gregory Owen testified against Kelly Gissendaner after pleading guilty to forcing Douglas Gissendaner to drive to a remote corner of Gwinnett County on Feb. 7, 1997, knocking him unconscious and then repeatedly stabbing him.

Owen was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole once he has served 25 years, while Kelly Gissendaner rejected a similar plea deal and went to trial.

She is scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Fletcher said he is arguing that Gissendaner should be spared based on "the disproportionate nature of Ms. Gissendaner's sentence when compared to that of her co-defendant, Gregory Owen, who actually stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death. Mr. Owen will be eligible for parole in seven years. Ms. Gissendaner was not present when Mr. Gissendaner was killed, but she is scheduled to be executed in less than a week."

In the unanimous 2000 opinion, the seven justices wrote that death was an appropriate sentence for Gissendaner because she was the “moving force behind the murder and even insisted upon murder when her co-conspirator suggested divorce instead.” The justices also wrote in the opinion she stood to gain financially from her husband’s death by collecting on a life insurance policy and would get their $84,000 house and she tried to find someone who, for $10,000, would beat beat up prosecution witnesses and also claim responsibility for her husband’s murder.

“We concluded that her sentence was proportionate to her role in the crime. I was wrong,” Fletcher wrote.

The former chief justice also said Kelly Gissendaner's ministry in prison and the help she has provided other inmates in despair are reasons Gissendaner should be spared.

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