Georgia board denies clemency, only female inmate on death row set to be executed Tuesday night

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(CNN) — The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole has denied clemency for death row inmate Kelly Gissendaner, it said in a news release.

The 47-year-old, convicted of a crime in which she convinced her lover to kill her husband, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

The board met for hours and heard from her oldest son, Brandon Brookshire. Her other children, Kayla and Dakota, were present and have previously spoken out in support of their mother.

The hearing, which began at 11 a.m. ET, was closed to media. It was only the board members, attorneys and the children present. 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.

Gissendaner would be the state’s first female convict to be executed in 70 years. The board had the option to commute her sentence to life in prison.

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 by electric chair in 1945.

The family of Gissendaner’s slain husband, Douglas, issued a statement Tuesday.

It read, 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 said. “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.

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

The daughter has 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 have 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.

The constitutionality of lethal injection drugs has made headlines in recent years and European manufacturers — such as Denmark-based Lundbeck, which manufactures pentobarbital — banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions in 2013. That meant 32 states had to find new drug protocols.

Last year, Oklahoma issued a moratorium on executions after murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett convulsed, writhed and lay alive on a gurney for 43 minutes before dying. It was the state’s first time using a new, three-drug cocktail for an execution.

On Tuesday, as the board weighed its decision, the Rev. Cathy Zappa appeared on CNN.

Zappa has counseled Gissendaner.

When Kelly was threatened with execution previously, the inmate “faced her fate with grace,” the reverend said.

CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield asked Zappa what her “words of comfort” would be to the family of Doug Gissendaner.

“That’s a really hard question because I’m aware of how hard this has been” for them, Zappa answered.

“I don’t know if they’d want words of comfort from me,” she said. “I pray for him. I pray for them. I hope they can find healing. If this execution doesn’t happen, I hope they find healing and closure some way and I believe it’s possible.”