Despite Francis' intervention, Georgia moves forward with execution

Update: Georgia death row inmate Kelly Gissendaner was executed early this morning. The execution was scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 29), but was delayed five hours as her lawyers her lawyers filed appeals to state and federal courts to try to spare her life. NCR's earlier coverage continues below.

In a letter to Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles, Pope Francis has asked the state not to execute Kelly Gissendaner, who was put on death row for the 1997 killing of her husband. Gissendaner — a mother of three — is scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday.

The board, however, denied her clemency Tuesday afternoon, despite the pope’s request.

“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,” read the pope’s letter, sent through Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta also wrote to the board, urging it to grant clemency to Gissendaner.

“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,” he wrote. “Commuting the death sentence of Kelly Gissendaner to one of life without parole is compatible with that goal.”

Francis’ request is possibly his most public and direct interaction with U.S. affairs, and comes just six days after he addressed the Joint Session of Congress, where he called for the global abolition of the death penalty:

“This conviction [of our responsibility to defend human life at every state] has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels 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.”

[Soli Salgado is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter @soli_salgado.]

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