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Pope left the United States, but death penalty remains

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Reinvigorated by a vibrant appeal from Pope Francis to abolish the death penalty, activists in the United States face the harsh reality of three executions scheduled in three days this week.

Kelly Gissendaner, 47, is set on Tuesday to be the 16th woman executed since the Supreme Court re-established the death penalty in 1976.

She is currently the only woman on death row in the southern state of Georgia, where the minimum age for execution is 17. She is set to die by lethal injection.

Gissendaner was convicted in 1997 of conspiring with her lover to kill her husband.

The lover, who actually carried out the murder, negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors and was granted a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

Gissendaner made the mistake of turning down the deal and trying her case before a jury.

“The outcome illustrates one of the fundamental flaws with the death penalty — it’s applied arbitrarily,” said Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International, which is among a number of groups calling for her sentence to be commuted to life in prison.

On Wednesday, Richard Glossip, 52, is set to die by lethal injection in Oklahoma, a conservative midwestern state.

Glossip, who has proclaimed his innocence for the past 18 years, was granted a last-minute reprieve two weeks ago while the state’s top court considered his appeal.

A host of supporters — who include actress Susan Sarandon and billionaire Richard Branson have fought to help Glossip overturn his 1997 conviction in the murder of his former boss.

Glossip was convicted based on the testimony of fellow motel employee Justin Sneed, who pleaded guilty and was able to negotiate a life sentence by claiming his co-worker had masterminded the plot.

He also has garnered attention for his failed bid to ban a controversial drug used in lethal injections. The Supreme Court upheld the use of the drug midazolam in June, saying it does not violate the US Constitution.

Oklahoma’s supreme court ruled Monday that there were insufficient grounds to support Glossip’s appeal and said the execution could go forward as planned.

– Mentally disabled –

On Thursday, Alfredo Prieto, who was convicted of three murders and is suspected to have carried out six others, is set to be executed by lethal injection in Virginia.

His lawyers have argued that the immigrant from El Salvador is mentally disabled and should thus be spared.

Pope Francis did not mention any names when he called for the global abolition of the death penalty during an address to the US Congress Thursday.

But his words brought hope to opponents of the death penalty, who immediately took to social media to reinforce their campaigns. They also come as the United States has registered a steady decline in the number of executions and people sent to death row.

Could that hope translate into yet another reprieve for Gissendaner, who found God behind bars and says she has repented for her crime?

She was set to die in February, but the execution was cancelled due to a snow storm. A month later her execution was again called off because the lethal injection drug, pentobarbital, was cloudy.

Three botched executions in 2014 — in which the condemned men could be seen gasping for air and writhing in pain — have led to increased scrutiny of the drugs being used and reignited the debate over the process.

Gissendaner’s daughter and two sons urged officials to spare their mother’s life in a statement earlier this month.

“We’ve lost our dad. We can’t imagine losing our mom too.”



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