Fairer Sex, Unequal Justice?

A common refrain among inmates at Atlanta's Metro State Prison for Women is that they didn't do it -- that they were taking the rap for someone else.

But among those who accept their sentence, there is another complaint -- that the system is stacked against them.

One of the peculiarities of American justice is that for many violent crimes, women tend to serve longer sentences than men.

Men tend to kill strangers, but women kill family members. Almost half of America's female murderers killed their husband or boyfriend.

'Done My Time'

One of those inmates who say they've received an unfair sentence is Metro's most famous murderer, 54-year-old grandmother Jimmie Sue Gambrel.

"I had a very abusive husband. But he was sexually molesting our children. And when I went to the police, they wouldn't do nothing. So I did," she told Primetime Live's Diane Sawyer.

Gambrel holds the distinction of serving one of the longest sentences at Metro: more than 16 years, so far.

She says she still feels sorry for the crime she committed, but she has spent enough time behind bars. "I'll never quit paying for it," Gambrel told Sawyer. "I'll always have to pay. But as that time issue, I have done my time."

Money Motives

Primetime took a closer look at her case. In 1986, Gambrel was a 38-year-old hairdresser who owned her own salon and a ceramics shop.

She made sensational headlines after her husband was shot four times with a .38-caliber pistol, and she was charged with masterminding the crime. The supposed triggerman was her 18-year-old lover, who was her daughter's boyfriend.

Her daughter did testify that her father was sexually abusive. But the prosecutor said that Gambrel also had another motive: $100,000 in life insurance, which she collected.

Gambrel was caught only when her teen lover turned on her because he found out that she had married another man.

She was sentenced to life in prison. Her lover got life too. In her defense, Gambrel says, "I wasn't a horrible person. I was a normal everyday housewife."

One of a Kind

The Gambrel case hardly proves that sentencing is fair and uniform though. While Gambrel serves a life sentence, another woman in Metro with a very similar story received the death penalty.

Kelly Gissendaner, 36, is the only woman on death row in Georgia. The mother of three is held behind heavy metal gates, in solitary confinement at the end of a long corridor in Metro.

In 1997, she was a prison guard when her husband disappeared. She was later accused of conspiring with her lover to kidnap and murder her husband. Authorities say her motive was possession of the house and $20,000 in insurance money.

"The defendant in this case is a desperate, evil woman," the prosecution said. "That's what evil looks like."

Her defense attorney tried to persuade the jury that her lover acted alone because he was "obssessed" with her.

Her lover got a life sentence with the possibility of parole in exchange for testifying against her. Gissendaner's case is currently on appeal.

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