Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Virginia to execute first woman in almost 100 years

Despite IQ of 70-72, grandmother expected to die by lethal injection on Thursdayfirst in five years Virginia to execute first woman in almost 100 years

Barring a last-minute reprieve from the US Supreme Court, 41-year-old Teresa Lewis will on Thursday become the first woman to be executed by the state of Virginia in almost 100 years.

Abolitionists paint Lewis as a classic example of why capital punishment is flawed, saying the mother and grandmother has diminished mental faculties and was taken advantage of by smarter accomplices.

But with an IQ hovering at 70 or above, Lewis is considered fit for trial in Virginia and she pleaded guilty to hiring two men to murder her husband and stepson to pocket their 350,000-dollar life insurance policy.

Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, she will die by lethal injection on Thursday, the first woman to be put to death in Virginia since Virginia Christian, a black 17-year-old who died in the electric chair in 1912.

Lewis met Rodney Fuller and Matthew Shallenberger in a Walmart superstore. Soon she began an affair with the 22-year-old Shallenberger and encouraged her 16-year-old daughter to get together with Fuller, who was 19.

Lewis admits she left the door of the family trailer in rural Pittsylvania County open in 2002 so the two young accomplices could enter and shoot her husband and his 25-year-old son, who was in the military.

All three pleaded guilty. The triggermen got life in prison, but Lewis, who was deemed fit to stand trial, was sentenced to death as the mastermind of the killings, or in the words of the judge "the head of this serpent."

His summation is far from the portrayal that Lewis supporters offer -- that of a borderline mentally disabled woman, who struggled with a behavioral dependency disorder and was addicted to prescription drugs.

Regardless, why is she to be executed when she should have been handed life without parole like the two men who actually carried out the murder, they ask.

"The issue in the case is not that Teresa Lewis is a woman and should be treated differently," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty information center, told AFP.

"But it would be grossly unfair if the one person among those involved who is probably the least danger to society, who is certainly no more guilty than those who carried out the murders and whose disabilities call out for mercy, is the only person scheduled to die for this crime."

The Supreme Court has ruled against the execution of the mentally impaired under the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

But both the Virginia Supreme Court and a federal appeals court have ruled that Lewis could function normally in society.

Lewis's lawyers argue that new evidence, including her low IQ, has appeared since her trial that should prevent her execution.

The key piece of evidence they want considered is a letter from Shallenberger, who killed himself in jail in 2006, in which he claims full responsibility for the murder plot and suggests he pushed Lewis into it.

"From the moment I met her I knew she was someone who could be easily manipulated," he allegedly wrote. "Killing Julian and Charles Lewis was entirely my idea. I needed money, and Teresa was an easy target."

But Virginia governor Robert McDonnell on Friday denied clemency, saying he could "find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court."

His statement said Lewis had admitted "heinous" crimes and noted that no doctors had concluded she was mentally disabled under Virginia law, which sets the bar at exactly 70 on the IQ scale.

With three nights to go before she is escorted to the death chamber, Lewis's lawyer James Rocap told AFP she was sad but resigned to her fate.

"She is very disappointed... she wants to live, but she has a remarkable, spiritual peace about her and she has said that whatever happens she would be a winner. She's relying I think very strongly right now on her faith to help her go through this."

If Lewis is executed on Thursday, she will become only the 12th woman to be executed in the United States since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976. In that time 1,215 people have been executed.

The United States is among the countries that execute the most people each year, along with China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.


Was emailed this video on the case

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