Amazing Grace Last Words

         The Kelly Gissendaner case has been in the media for almost two years now. I remember about a year ago signing a petition to not have her executed. On Wednesday the 30, Gissendaner was finally executed: the first female prisoner executed in Georgia in the last 70 years. This case was incredibly similar to the Terry Shaivo case because two sides were fighting over the life of a woman, and even the Pope got involved.

        Gissendaner was convicted of murder in 1997 for persuading her lover to kill her husband, though she did not commit the actual murder. The Pope, Kelly’s children, and many liberals around the country pleaded to not have Kelly given the death penalty while the family of her late husband prayed that the legal system would come through and put her to death. Much of the controversy around the case expounded from the fact that Kelly, throughout her many years in prison, Kelly converted to christianity and became very strong in her faith. She prevented women from committing suicide in prison, encouraged other women to turn their lives around, and created a theology study for other prisoners (helped some by Emory). Sadly, none of these people could help Kelly in the end and the Georgia government sentenced her to death anyway.

          While I could spend an extended amount of time discussing the ethics and effectiveness of the death penalty in America, (which I do not agree with) something even more interesting comes in to play when looking at the Gissendaner case. When Kelly was finally executed, not only did she sing Amazing Grace, but her final worlds were incredibly meaningful and representative of why people were fighting for her life. In a fit of tears, she exclaimed “and I love you Sally. And I love you Susan. You let my kids know I went out singing Amazing Grace. And tell the Gissendaner family I am so sorry. That amazing man lost his life because of me and if i could take it back, if this would change it, I would have done it a long time ago. But it’s not. And I just hope they ding peace. And I hope they find some happiness. God Bless you.”

There are many important parts of this speech. The idea of final last words is strong and here I think Kelly attempts to find some reception before she dies, and she also addresses the fact that her dying doesn’t change anything about the murder that was done, however she clearly very much wishes she could change the fact that the murder happened. It means a lot that in the moments before she was about to die, Kelly is hoping for the lives of the people that are putting her to death.

One response to “Amazing Grace Last Words

  1. Margaux Villinger

    Like the Terri Schiavo case, I think Kelly Giessendaner’s situation seems to have been taken out of the family’s hand and overpublicized by the media. This article (by a reputable news source) only gives a small voice to the family members in favor the lethal injection (three short paragraphs). Her daughters have no statements included and the video of one speaking out barely surpasses half a minute. Despite this, many other unrelated voices are able to come forth including those of religious power and even the personal opinions of a journalist. Though Kelly’s final words are not written, it’s possible this was done intentionally to create more of an ‘awe’ or ‘true drama’ factor as a video embodies the entity of a person more so than written text. As a news website, an article is more dramatic and likely to be viewed by users online in video form. This is seen even more when the content is directed towards peoples’ morbid fascinations of death and events surrounding death (much like a car crash or fire which attracts onlookers).
    It’s interesting how religion takes a strong role in this report, seen even in the title itself. The voices of those in religious power such as Pope Francis and Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, are used to validate the situation and bring light onto the death penalty exacted through this woman. Kelly is justified as becoming ‘pure’ in a way by her actions within the prison. Earning a degree and helping others in the prison are good acts, but she is heralded primarily for her adoption of Christianity and singing “Amazing Grace”. Many people are known to adopt religion in places of incarceration, and I imagine that number increases when those individuals are placed on death row. With no hope of leaving prison alive, developing a sense of peace both with oneself and others becomes a goal. A shift in character (as many claim Kelly experienced) is the whole point of the prison system. Prison becomes a ‘timeout’ of sorts from real life in order to reevaluate oneself and previous actions which have conflicted with societal norms and legal regulations. Despite this reformation, the use of religion should not be used as a tool for one to evade legality as it is being done so here. If the court had released Kelly, they would have been setting a precedent that fellow inmates simply had to adopt a religious life (or have a semblance of doing so) and conduct a number of good deeds in order to evade the harshest penalties set by the law.
    I do not agree that Kelly should have faced the death penalty but it’s understandable why the courts would retain their decision on the matter. Given that she herself did not commit the murder but her lover did, it is strange their sentences were different- the killer facing a life sentence and she the death penalty. It would make more sense for either the sentences be flipped or that she also faced a life sentence. I wonder if the family (from the husband’s side) had a hand in this difference of sentences when they first went to court regarding the murder. Though the article chooses to focus on things such as her last meal, it fails to give more personal details regarding the victim and the family involved.

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