Unfortunately, we now have to turn to some Not Good News, in this case about the death penalty.
There was one woman on death row in Georgia. Her name was Kelly Gissendaner. She was scheduled to be killed by the state at 7pm on Tuesday, September 29. It was delayed by a flurry of last-minute appeals, but the last one, to the Supreme Court, was rejected at 11:30pm, clearing the way for her officially-sanctioned murder, which took place at 12:21am on Wednesday.
She died by lethal injection - in other words, she was poisoned.
Gissendaner was convicted in 1998 of malice murder after she convinced her boyfriend, one Gregory Owen, to kill her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. Interestingly, while Owen was the one who actually carried out the murder of Douglas Gissendaner, she was sentenced to be killed while he was sentenced to life in prison and will be eligible for parole in 2022. The disparity in punishment did not move any court even as it showed the capriciousness of the death penalty.
The court maneuvering came after the Board of Pardons and Parolees refused her request for clemency despite calls for it from her children (who are, let's not forget, also the children of the victim), Norman Fletcher, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, who argued Gissendaner's death sentence is not proportionate to her role in the crime and that he himself was wrong in his decision to deny an earlier appeal from Gissendaner - as well as an appeal for mercy from Pope Francis.
No matter. The hangman got his coin and mercy could hang as well.
There is one bright note in this:
The death penalty is on the decline in the United States every way you look at it. Fewer states have the death penalty, fewer executions are carried out in those that do, and fewer people are sentenced to death in the first place.
For example, between 1997 and 2005, the nation averaged 71 sanctioned killings each year; between 2006 and 2013, that number dropped to 44 per year. And in 2014 there were just 35, the lowest number in two decades. Meanwhile, the number sentenced to die in 2015, based on the year-to-date, is projected at 72, which would be less than a quarter of the number of such sentences handed down in the mid-1990s.
And as the death penalty itself slowly dies, public support for it is also declining. According to the Pew Forum, a clear majority of Americans still support the death penalty; the figure is 55% yes, 37% no. But that is a sharp decline from 1996, when it was approved by 78-18. A 60-point gap has shrunk to an 18-point gap.
Unlike in some other cases, I can't say with any assurance that justice will come on this topic. But at least it doesn't feel like it's entirely out of reach.
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