Profile of Husband Killer Kelly Gissendaner

An In-Depth Look at the Murder of Doug Gissendaner

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Kelly Gissendaner - Georgia Death Row Inmate. Mug Shot

Kelly Gissendaner received the death penalty after being convicted of being the mastermind behind the murder of her husband, Doug Gissendaner. Prosecutors said Gissendaner convinced her then-lover, Greg Owens, to commit the murder.

Doug Gissendaner

Doug Gissendaner was born in December 1966 at Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the oldest of three children and the only boy.

His parents, Doug Sr.

and Sue Gissendaner were devoted to their children and raised them to be respectful and responsible. The children grew up in a happy, close knit family. However, unlike his siblings, Doug struggled in school, and it was discovered that he was dyslexic.

When he finished high school in 1985, he had grown tired of constantly fighting to pass his grades and decided against his father's wishes to go to college. Instead, he got a job working with his hands, which is where he always felt most comfortable.

Greg Owen

Greg Owen was born on March 17, 1971, in Clinton, Georgia. He was the second child of four born to parents Bruce and Myrtis Owen. Their third child, David, died from sudden infant death syndrome a few weeks after his birth in 1976.

Greg grew up in a volatile home filled with alcohol and violence. His parents were constantly moving from one town to another, putting the children in the position of always being newcomers.

Friendless throughout much of their childhood, the Owen kids stuck closely together.

Greg was a small child and easily intimidated. Belinda was a tough cookie that often stood up against those who decided to bully her younger and somewhat frail brother, including Bruce, their father, who violently lashed out at the children when he was drunk.

For Greg, going to school was just another place to go to get picked on. He was a loner who struggled to keep his grades up. After managing to complete the eighth grade at age 14, he dropped out and went to work.

Kelly Brookshire

Kelly Brookshire was born in 1968 in rural Georgia. Her brother, Shane, was born a year later. Unlike the Gissendaner's idyllic family, Kelly's mother and father, Maxine and Larry Brookshire, liked to drink, do speed and fight.

Their marriage ended after four years, partially due to Maxine's infidelity. After the divorce, it took Maxine just eight days to marry her lover, Billy Wade.

Maxine's second marriage played out much the same as her first marriage. There was a lot of alcohol and a lot of fighting. Wade proved to be more abusive than Larry and would often lock the kids in their rooms while he beat on Maxine.

He also released his ferocious temper onto the children. Throughout the years that Wade was around, he choked Kelly, and both he and Maxine would hit her with belts, flyswatters, their hand and whatever was within reach. But, for Kelly, it was the mental abuse that caused the deepest damage. Maxine was so busy dealing with her problems that she offered no support to Kelly when Wade constantly called her stupid and ugly and told her she was unwanted and unloved.

As a result, Kelly had no self-esteem and often turned to the one place she could find pleasure; deep into her mind where fantasies of a better life gave her some joy.

Abused children often find a feeling of safety at being at school, but for Kelly school was just another problem she could not solve. She was often tired and unable to concentrate and had a difficult time getting through grammar school.

Unharmonious Reunion

When Kelly was 10 she reunited with her birth father, Larry Brookshire, but the reunion was a disappointment to Kelly. She hoped to establish a father-daughter relationship with Larry, but that did not happen. After his divorce to Maxine, he remarried and had a daughter. There was no attempt on his part to fit Kelly into his new world.

New Kid on the Block

At about the time that Kelly was entering high school, Maxine decided to divorce Wade and start fresh in a new town.

She packed up the kids and moved to Winder, Georgia, a small town located 20 minutes from Athens and an hour from Atlanta.

Being a new student in a small town where most of the children grew up knowing each other made it difficult for the six-foot tall Kelly to establish friendships.When other kids were cheering on their team at the high school football games, Kelly would be working the take-out window at the local McDonalds.

Maxine had strict rules concerning Kelly's social life. She was not allowed to bring friends home, especially boys, and she could not date.

Tagged as a loner, Kelly's classmates had little to do with her and often referred to her as "trailer trash." Any friendships that did happen did not last long. That was until her senior year when she met Mitzi Smith. Seeing that Kelly appeared lonely, Mitzi reached out to her, and their friendship flourished.

Pregnancy

It was also during Kelly's senior year that she became pregnant. She was able to hide it for several months, but into her sixth month, Mitzi along with the rest of the school could see that she was an expectant mother. She was subjected to more ridicule by her classmates, but Mitzi stood by her and helped her get through it.

Throughout the pregnancy, Kelly refused to give the name of the baby's father. She told Mitzi it could have been either a student or another guy that she knew. Either way, she was not willing to tell the name.

When Larry Brookshire found out about Kelly's pregnancy he reconnected with her and the two decided that the child should have his last name. In June 1986, just two weeks after Kelly graduated high school, her son Brandon Brookshire was born.

Jeff Banks

A few months after Brandon was born, Kelly began dating a boy she knew in high school, Jeff Banks. A few months later they were married.

The marriage lasted just six months. It ended abruptly after Larry Brookshire went after Banks with a gun because he failed to pass Larry bread during a family dinner.

Now a single mother, 19-year-old Kelly moved herself and her baby back into her mother's mobile home.

For the next several months, life for Kelly continued to be one dramatic episode after another. She was arrested for shoplifting, physically abused by Larry, was unable to remain employed, and turned to alcohol as a way to self-medicate.

Doug and Kelly

Doug Gissendaner and Kelly met in March 1989 through a mutual friend. Doug was instantly attracted to Kelly and the two began dating regularly. He also took an instant liking to Kelly's son Brandon.

That following September they married. Any reservations Doug's parents had about the marriage was quickly put to rest when they discovered that Kelly was four months pregnant on her wedding day.

After the wedding, Doug and Kelly both lost their jobs and moved in with Kelly's mother.

It was not long before the bickering and fighting that had plagued Kelly's life started up again, only this time it included Doug. But his upbringing did not include knowing how to out scream another family member. He just tried hard not to engage.

The Army

Wanting a steady income and benefits for his expectant wife, Doug decided to enlist in the Army. There he made a lot of friends and was well respected by his superiors. Being in the Army also allowed Doug enough money to send to Kelly to cover the bills, but Kelly spent the money on other things. When Doug's parents found out that the couple's car was about to be repossessed, they bailed Kelly out and paid the car notes.

In August 1990, a month after their first child, Kayla, was born, Doug was shipped to Wiesbaden, Germany and Kelly and the children followed him the following month. Trouble between the two began almost immediately. When Doug was away on Army assignments for days and weeks at a time, Kelly would throw parties, and it was rumored that she was seeing other men.

After several confrontations Kelly and the children returned to Georgia. When Doug returned home permanently in October 1991, life with Kelly was miserable. A month later Kelly decided to it was her turn to join the Army and Doug decided the marriage was over. They immediately filed for a separation and were finally divorced in May 1993.

Doug Sr. and Sue Gissendaner breathed a sigh of relief. Kelly was nothing but trouble. They were glad she was out of their son's life for good.

Jonathan Dakota Brookshire (Cody)

Kelly and the Army did not get along. She figured her only way out was to get pregnant. By September she got her wish and was back home living with her mother. In November she gave birth to a boy she named Jonathan Dakota but called Cody. The boy's father was an Army friend who had cancer and died months before the child was born.

Once home Kelly began her usual job hopping and dating multiple men. One job that she landed was at the International Readers League of Atlanta. Her boss was Belinda Owens, and soon the two began socializing together and eventually became best friends.

Belinda invited Kelly to her home one weekend, and she introduced her to her brother Owen. There was an immediate attraction between Kelly and Owen, and they became inseparable.

A Bad Match

Belinda kept a sharp eye over her brother as his relationship with Kelly grew. Things seemed to be great between them at first, but before long Kelly began throwing tantrums and fighting with Greg when he did not do what she wanted.

Ultimately Belinda decided that Kelly was not a good match for her brother. She particularly did not like how she bossed him around. When all of their fighting led to a breakup, Belinda felt relief.

December 1994

In December 1994, Doug and Kelly rekindled their relationship. They began attending church and working on their poor financial situation.

Doug's parents were upset about the reunion and when Doug asked them for money to buy a house they refused. They had already spent thousands of dollars bailing him out of the financial disaster that Kelly had created when they were married.

But their opinion failed to sway Doug, and in May 1995 the two were remarried. Doug had his family back together. But by September they were once again separated and Kelly was back seeing Greg Owen.

One More Time

Whether it was Doug's strong desire to have a family or his deep love for Kelly, no one can say for sure, but by the beginning of 1996, Kelly had convinced him once again to get back together.

Doug made a full commitment to the marriage, and to give Kelly the one thing she had always dreamed of having, he got a high-interest loan and bought a small three-bedroom ranch house on Meadow Trace Drive, in a subdivision in Auburn, Georgia. There he did what subdivisions Dads do- he worked on the house, did the yard work, and played with the kids.

Kelly, however, filled her spare time focused on something that had nothing to do with her family or her husband. She was back in the arms of Greg Owen.

February 8, 1997

Doug and Kelly Gissendaner had been in their new house for three months. On Friday, February 7, Kelly decided to take the children to her mother's house because she was going out for the night with friends from work. Doug spent the evening working on a car over at a friend's house. At around 10 p.m. he decided to call it a night and headed home. Saturday he was going to be busy doing some work for the church, and he wanted a good night's sleep.

After dinner and an hour spent at a dance club, Kelly told her three friends that she wanted to go home. She said she felt like something bad was going to happen and headed home around midnight.

The following morning when Kelly awoke, Doug was not there. She made some calls, including one to his parents, but he was nowhere to be found. By mid-morning, a missing person's report had been filed at the police station.

Initial Investigation

The initial investigation into Doug Gissendaner's whereabouts began on the same day that he was reported as missing. A search group was sent out along the route that he was most likely to have traveled the previous night and statements were taken from family and friends.

Kelly Owens was one of the first to talk with the investigators. During that meeting, she described her marriage to Doug as problem free. But interviews with family members and friends told a different story and one name, in particular, kept surfacing - Greg Owen.

Odd Behavior

By Sunday, Doug's car had been located abandoned on a dirt road in Gwinnett County. It had been partially burned from the inside out.

On the same day that the burned-out car was found, friends and family gathered in support at Doug Sr. and Sue Gissendaner's house. Kelly had also been there but decided to take the children to the circus. Doug's parents found her behavior as odd for a wife whose husband had just gone missing.

The news about the car was not good, but there was still hope that Doug would be found, possibly hurt, but hopefully not dead. But as more days went by the optimism began to fade.

Kelly did a few television interviews and then went back to work the following Tuesday, just four days into the search for her husband.

Twelve Days Later

It took 12 days to find Doug Gissendaner. His body was discovered a mile from where his car had been found. What looked like a pile of trash ended up to be Doug, dead, on his knees, bent at the waist with his head and shoulders leaning forward and his forehead lying in the dirt.

Wild animals had already had an opportunity to their damage to his face which was unrecognizable. An autopsy and dental records were necessary to confirm that it was indeed Doug Gissendaner. According to the autopsy, Doug was stabbed four times in the scalp, neck, and shoulder.

Murder Investigation

Now with a murder investigation to conduct, the list of people to be interviewed grew considerably, with more names added to the list daily.

In the meantime, Kelly Gissendaner asked to meet with investigators again to clarify some of what she said in her initial statement.

She admitted that the marriage had been rocky and during one of their splits, she had been involved with Greg Owen. She said that Greg Owen had threatened to kill Doug when he learned that they were back together and working on their marriage. When asked if she was still in contact with Owen, she said only once in awhile because he called her repeatedly.

But all of her candor did little to persuade investigators that she was not somehow involved in her husband's murder.

In the meantime, during Doug's funeral, Kelly showed more bizarre behavior when she had family and friends wait for her arrival for over an hour from the funeral home where the memorial was given to the cemetery where Doug was to be buried. They found out later that she had stopped for a bite to eat and to do some shopping at the Cracker Barrel.

The Alibi

As for Greg Owen, he gave detectives a solid alibi. His roommate confirmed what Gret told them, that he had been home the entire night that Doug went missing and had been picked up by a friend at 9 a.m. the following morning for work.

The roommate later recanted his story and said Greg had left the apartment the night of the murder and he did not see him again until 8 a.m. the following morning. This was exactly what the detectives needed to get Greg Owen back in for questioning.

Greg Owen Cracks

With Owen's alibi now busted into pieces, he was brought back in for more questioning. Investigator Doug Davis conducted a second interview with Greg on February 24, 1997.

Detectives already strongly suspected that Kelly had first-hand knowledge about her husband's murder. Phone records showed that she and Greg Owens talked to each other 47 times during the days before Doug was murdered and, unlike what Kelly had told detectives about Owen constantly calling her, Kelly had initiated the calls 18 times.

At first, Owen refused to answer any questions, but when a plea deal was brought to the table stating that he would get life with parole after 25 years, rather than a possible death sentence, if he testified against Kelly Gissendaner, he quickly agreed and began confessing to murdering Doug.

He told detectives that Kelly planned it all. First, she wanted to make sure that Doug bought the house and that they had moved into for awhile before he was killed. She also wanted to secure an alibi on the night of the murder. When Owen asked her why not just divorce Doug, Kelly said he would never leave her alone.

He went on to explain that on the night of the murder Kelly picked him up at his apartment, drove to her house, let him inside and provided a nightstick and a knife for Owen to use to attack Doug. She instructed him to make it look like a robbery, then left and went out with her friends while Owen waited in the house for Doug to come home.

He said that Doug entered the house around 11 p.m. and Owen held the knife to his neck, and then made him drive to Luke Edwards Road which is where Kelly told him to go.

He then made Doug walk up an embankment and into the woods where he told him to get down on his knees. He struck him over the head with the nightstick and stabbed him, took his wedding ring and a watch, then left him to bleed to death.

Next, he drove around in Doug's car until he received a page from Kelly with a code that would indicate that the murder had taken place. She then met Owen at Luke Edwards Road and wanted to see for herself that Doug was dead so she climbed the embankment and viewed his body. Then, with kerosene which Kelly provided, they burned Doug's car.

Afterward, they made calls from phone booths at around the same time; then she dropped him off at his home. At that point, they agreed that they should not be seen together for awhile.

Kelly Gissendaner is Arrested

Detectives wasted no time in arresting Kelly for the murder of her husband. They went to her home on February 25, well after midnight made the arrest and then searched the house.

This time Kelly had a new story to tell to the police. She admitted that she saw Greg Owen the night that Doug was murdered. She went and picked him up after he called her and asked her to meet him and he told her what he did to Doug, and then threatened to do the same to her and her children if she went to the police.

The detectives and prosecutor did not believe her story. Kelly Gissendaner was charged with murder, felony murder and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony. She continued to insist that she was innocent and even turned down a plea bargain similar to what Greg Owen received.

The Trial

With no women on Georgia's death row, seeking a death sentence if Gissendaner was found guilty was a risk for prosecutors, but one they decided to take.

Kelly's trial began on November 2, 1998. She faced a sequestered jury made up of ten women and two men. Television cameras were allowed in the courtroom.

She would also be facing Doug Gissendaner's father who was permitted to be in the courtroom after he gave his testimony, along with two key witnesses whose testimonies could send her straight to death row.

The Witnesses

Greg Owens was the state's number one witness. Most of his testimony matched his confession although there were some changes. One significant difference referenced the time that Kelly showed up at the murder scene. During court testimony, he said she was there right as he murdered Doug.

He also testified that instead of them burning Doug's car together, she tossed a soda bottle of kerosene out of the window and he retrieved and burned the car alone.

Next was Laura McDuffie, an inmate that Kelly confided in and who she asked for help in finding a witness who would take the fall for $10,000 and say that she was with Owen, not Kelly, on the night of the murder.

She provided McDuffie with a map of her house and a handwritten script of what the witness should say. An expert witness testified that the script was written by Gissendaner.

Other witnesses for the prosecution testified about Kelly's coldness upon hearing that Doug had been found murdered and about her affair with Greg Owen.

One of her closest friends, Pam, testified that after Kelly was arrested, she called Pam and told her that she killed Doug. She called her again and said that Greg Owen forced her to do it by threatening to kill herself and her children.

Closing Arguments

The prosecutor, George Hutchinson, and Gissendaner's defense lawyer, Edwin Wilson, presented strong closing arguments.

The Defense

Wilson's argument was that the state had failed to prove Kelly's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

He referred to parts of Greg Owen's testimony as unbelievable, pointing out that it did not seem possible that Doug Gissendaner would not fight Owen who was considerably smaller in height and weight.

Doug had combat training and had served in a combat theater in Desert Storm. He was trained in escape and evasion, yet he followed Owen's instructions to go out the door of his house, and not only get in the car but unlock the passenger's side of the car so that Owen could get in.

He also found it hard to believe that he would willingly drive to a deserted road, get out of the car and wait while Owen got out on his side, then come around to him, leading him up a hill, into the woods, without once trying to make a run for it or fight for his life.

He also pointed out that Greg received a life sentence with the possibility of parole only if he agreed to testify against Gissendaner.

He attempted to discredit the testimony of Laura McDuffie, describing her as a hardcore criminal that would do anything to scratch off some of her prison time.

And as for Kelly's friend, Pam, who testified that the day that Kelly was arrested that she called Pam and told her, "I did it," he said she simply did not hear Kelly properly.

The Prosecution

During Hutchinson's closing argument, he quickly pointed out that no one can say what was going through Doug Gissendaner mind when he encountered Owen with a knife inside his home. But the point was that Doug was dead, regardless of the exact chain of events that led to it.

As to the attempt to discredit Pam's testimony, Hutchinson said Wilson was "reinventing and mischaracterizing" evidence.

And about the credibility of Laura McDuffie, Hutchinson pointed out that what she testified about did not really matter. The evidence was all that the jury needed. The script that handwriting experts testified was written by Kelly and the detailed drawing of the interior of her house backed up the testimony.

He referenced the 47 phone calls between Kelly and Greg that took place days before the murder and how that exchange suddenly stopped afterward, asking the question as to why would that pattern of activity suddenly stop?

The Verdict and Sentence

In the end, it took the jury two short hours to return a verdict of guilty. During the penalty phase of the trial both sides fought hard, but again, after two hours the jury had made their decision:

"The state of Georgia versus Kelly Renee Gissendaner, verdict as to sentencing, we the jury find beyond a reasonable doubt that statutory aggravating circumstances do exist in this case. We the jury fix the sentence of death..."

Since her conviction, Gissendaner has been incarcerated at Arrendale State Prison, where she is isolated since she is the only woman out of 84 death row inmates.

Execution Scheduled

Kelly Gissendaner was scheduled to die by lethal injection on February 25, 2015. However, the execution was postponed to March 2, 2015, due to bad weather conditions. Gissendaner exhausted all her appeals which included a 53-page application for clemency with testimonials from a former prison warden, members of the clergy and friends and family.

The victim's father, Doug Gissendaner, has fought equally hard to make certain that his ex- daughter-in-law's sentence is carried out. A statement released by the Gissendaner family after the appeal for clemency was rejected read:

“This has been a long, hard, heartbreaking road for us. Now that this chapter in this nightmare is over, Doug would want us and all of the people who loved him to find peace, to remember all the happy times and cherish memories we have of him. We should all strive every day to be the kind of person he was. Never forget him.

Gissendaner Executed September 29, 2015

After multiple eleventh-hour appeals and delays, Kelly Renee Gissendaner, Georgia's only woman on death row, was executed by lethal injection, prison officials said. Scheduled to die at 7 p.m. Tuesday, she died by injection of pentobarbital at 12:21 a.m. Wednesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied stays of execution three times Tuesday, Georgia's state Supreme Court denied a stay and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to grant her clemency following a hearing at which Gissendaner's supporters offered new testimony.

Even Pope Francis became involved in the case, requesting mercy for the woman who conspired with her adulterous lover to stab her husband to death in February 1997.

Gissendaner was the first woman executed in Georgia in 70 years.

Footnotes:

The murder occurred on February 7, 1997.

Gissendaner was indicted on April 30, 1997, by the Gwinnett County Grand Jury for malice murder and felony murder.

The State filed written notice of its intent to seek the death penalty on May 6, 1997.

Gissendaner's trial began on November 2, 1998, and the jury found her guilty of malice murder and felony murder on November 18, 1998.

The felony murder conviction was vacated by operation of law. Malcolm v. State, 263 Ga. 369(4), 434 S.E.2d 479 (1993); ?OCGA § 16-1-7.

On November 19, 1998, the jury fixed Gissendaner's sentence at death.

Gissendaner filed a motion for a new trial on December 16, 1998, which she amended on August 18, 1999, and which was denied on August 27, 1999.

Gissendaner filed a notice of appeal on September 24, 1999. This appeal was docketed on November 9, 1999, and orally argued on February 29, 2000.

The Supreme Court turned down her appeal on July 5, 2000.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Gissendaner's appeal for clemency on February 25, 2015.