A woman has been executed in the US state of Georgia, despite pleas from Pope Francis for a commutation of her sentence.
The US nuncio made a last minute appeal on the Pope’s behalf to commute the death sentence of Kelly Gissendaner but she was given a lethal injection on the same day.
In a letter to the board, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano quoted the words of Pope Francis to Congress on September 24, noting that the pontiff had, since the beginning of his ministry, advocated for the global abolition of the death penalty: “I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
In his letter, Archbishop Vigano said that he did not wish to minimise the gravity of the crime for which Gissendaner was convicted and that he sympathised with the victims. “I nonetheless implore you … to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy.”
“Please be assured of my prayers as you consider this request by Pope Francis for what I believe would be a just act of clemency,” Archbishop Vigano wrote.
Gissendaner was convicted in the 1997 murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. Prosecutors said she conspired with Gregory Owen, her boyfriend, who stabbed the husband to death. Owen testified against Gissendaner in a plea deal that left him with a sentence of life in prison without chance for parole. Her application for clemency notes that she has been a model prisoner and that the person who actually carried out the crime received a lighter sentence than she did.
Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D Gregory, in a news conference yesterday, read the nuncio’s letter and referred to his own request sent a week earlier to the parole board.
In that letter, he told the board that as “one of the shepherds of the Catholic Church in Georgia, I seek to contribute to a civilization that promotes human dignity by striking a balance between the demands of justice and the need for charity. Commuting the death sentence of Kelly Gissendaner to one of life without parole is compatible with that goal.”
The plea on behalf of Pope Francis just after he left the United States is reminiscent of a similar plea made by St John Paul II in 1999.
While visiting Missouri, the Pope made a specific plea to then-Governor Mel Carnahan to spare the life of Darrell Mease.
Mease, convicted of a triple murder, was scheduled to be executed a few days later. In announcing the commutation, Carnahan said he would spare Mease because the Pope had asked him to do so.