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Georgia board denies clemency, Gissendaner set to be executed Tuesday night

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Kelly Renee Gissendaner, 47, was convicted in a February 1997 murder plot that targeted her husband in suburban Atlanta, Georgia.

JACKSON, Ga. — Pleas from Kelly Gissendaner’s children and a last-minute letter on behalf of the Pope didn’t sway the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole Tuesday.

In a news release, the panel said it had denied clemency for the 47-year-old death row inmate, who was convicted of murder for convincing her lover to kill her husband in 1997.

While awaiting an answer from the board, a representative for Pope Francis sent a letter saying that his Holiness wanted the board to spare Gissendaner’s life.

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

She’s scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

Gissendaner is the state’s first female convict to be executed in 70 years.

The board had the option of commuting her sentence to life in prison, but chose not to do so.

It’s very rare to execute women. Only 15 female inmates have been put to death in the United States since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last woman in Georgia was executed in the electric chair in 1945.

Gissendaner was sentenced to death for the 1997 crime in which she convinced her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, to kill her husband Douglas.

His family issued a statement Tuesday which stated, in part, “As the murderer, she’s [Kelly] been given more rights and opportunity over the last 18 years than she ever afforded to Doug, who, again, is the victim here. She had no mercy, gave him no rights, no choices, nor the opportunity to live his life. His life was not hers to take.”

“Kelly planned and executed Doug’s murder,” it read. “She targeted him and his death was intentional. Kelly chose to have her day in court and after hearing the facts of this case, a jury of her peers sentenced her to death.”

There had been a big push to keep her from being executed, including from her children, who pleaded for her life.

“My dad would not want my mom to be executed, even knowing her role in his murder,” Kayla Gissendaner said in a statement. “He would not want us to endure another devastating loss.”

The daughter said her mother has changed over the past 18 years.

“I had to face what my mom had done and find a way to forgive her,” Kayla Gissendaner said. “In the process, I saw that my mom had struggled through the years to come to grips with what she had done and face her own horror about her actions.”

More than 90,000 people signed a petition urging Gov. Nathan Deal to halt her execution, claiming the mother of three has turned her life around and calling her a “powerful voice for good.”

“While incarcerated, she has been a pastoral presence to many, teaching, preaching and living a life of purpose,” the petition states. “Kelly is a living testament to the possibility of change and the power of hope. She is an extraordinary example of the rehabilitation that the corrections system aims to produce.”

Officials had previously set a date and called off the execution in February due to inclement weather. A few days later, the department of corrections indefinitely postponed Gissendaner’s execution after finding “cloudy” lethal injection drugs.