Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Blood on the state of Virginia's hands

While in a heartless move, the Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, has already denied clemency to Teresa Lewis, you can still register a
message of protest against her scheduled execution here:

Facing death: Teresa Lewis, considered to be borderline mentally-retarded, will be executed on Thursday if her latest appeal fails
Barring a last minute stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, at 9pm on Thursday, Teresa Lewis will be led into the
state death chamber in L building at Greensville Correction Centre,
Virginia - a prison nicknamed Hellville.
There, having chosen lethal injection over the electric chair, the
41-year-old grandmother will be given a fatal cocktail of drugs and her
death will be watched by the regulation minimum of six independent
She will be the first woman executed in the U.S. for five years, and the first in Virginia for almost a century.
Her case has shocked a country already accustomed to the arbitrary
nature of its death penalty. What has particularly appalled protesters
is that Lewis appears to have been singled out for the death penalty
because she is a woman.
Furthermore, with an IQ of 72, she is considered to be borderline
mentally-retarded. Friends say she is barely capable of buying food at
the shop.
She is being executed for her part in a double murder in which her two
co-conspirators - both men and the individuals who actually carried
out the fatal shootings - have escaped with life sentences in jail.
Requests for her punishment to be commuted to life in prison have come
from thousands including mental health groups, the EU and author John
Lewis's best hope of avoiding execution evaporated on Friday night when
Robert McDonnell, Virginia's governor and a strong advocate of the
death penalty, refused clemency.
He rejected what defence lawyers saw as compelling evidence about her feeble mental capabilities.
Isolated segregation: Teresa Lewis has been held at the Fluvanna Correctional Facility for Women since 2003 after receiving the death sentence
Isolated segregation: Teresa Lewis has been held at the Fluvanna Correctional Facility for Women since 2003 after receiving the death sentence
The defence lawyers claimed her learning difficulties undermined
prosecutors' claims that she was the mastermind of the murders eight
years ago of her husband and stepson.
Death penalty opponents say Lewis's case is particularly alarming
because the two men who actually admitted shooting dead the victims as
they slept in
their trailer home were allowed to live - they were jailed for life without the possibility of parole.
A psychologist has since assessed Lewis's IQ as 72, just over the 70
score that denotes someone as mentally retarded and which would exempt
her from the death penalty. Her lawyers have also said Lewis was
addicted to prescription drugs at the time of the crime and has been
diagnosed with a dependent personality disorder which meant she was
easily led by others.
She met her two conspirators, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller, at a WalMart store.
Lewis and Shallenberger began an affair and the trio hatched a plan to
kill her husband, Julian, and her stepson, CJ. They intended to share
the money she would receive from her husband's estate and her stepson's
$250,000 life insurance.
Just after midnight on October 30, 2002, the two men slipped quietly
through a backdoor that Lewis had left unlocked into a trailer home in
Pittsylvania County where the family of three were sleeping.
Armed with shotguns, they woke up Lewis and told her to leave her bedroom before Shallenberger shot her husband several times.
Fuller then went and shot CJ, an army reservist, five times and the
pair fled the trailer, having taken the money from Julian's wallet.
Lewis rang the police 45 minutes later to report the shootings and officers arrived to find
her husband still alive.
'My wife knows who done this to me,' he told them before dying.
Despite initial denials, she soon admitted the 'murder-for-hire' plot,
saying she had given her coaccused $1,200 to buy guns and ammunition.
On the advice of her lawyers, who predicted the judge would be lenient,
Lewis waived the right to a trial and pleaded guilty to seven charges
including two of 'murder for hire'.
Prosecutors struck a deal with Fuller to recommend a life sentence for
him in exchange for cooperating, prompting Judge Charles Strauss to
give the other gunman the same punishment on the grounds of fairness.
However, there was no leniency for Lewis whom he branded the 'the head
of this serpent' in the murder plot. Her lawyers have since put forward
various arguments for a reduction in her sentence, none of which have
proved persuasive to a state which is now second only to Texas in the
number of criminals it executes.
They said her judgment had been addled by her addiction to prescription
drugs - more than 600 pills a month - which she started taking to
deal with severe physical pain and the death of her mother.
The lawyers also provided evidence of her low mental abilities, with
friends describing her as childlike and unable to manage finances or
buy more than a day's groceries at a time.
Execution chamber: Lewis will be strapped down and given a lethal injection
Execution chamber: Lewis will be strapped down and given a lethal injection
Her 'dependent personality disorder' - attested to by three different
psychologists - not only made it difficult for her to carry out
simple daily tasks without help but also made her vulnerable to being
dominated by stronger men, such as Shallenberger.
Finally the defence produced a letter which Shallenberger wrote from
prison to a former girlfriend in 2003 claiming he had deliberately
manipulated Lewis into going along with the plan to kill her husband
and stepson.
With dreams of eventually becoming a major criminal in New York, Shal
lenberger described Lewis as 'exactly what I was looking for' - a dupe
he could use to raise money to establish himself as a drug dealer.
Three years later, he committed suicide in prison. Prosecutors dismissed the evidence as manufactured.
Ultimately, Lewis did not prove slow-witted enough for governor McDonnell.
In his judgment, he noted that she 'does not deny that she committed
these heinous crimes' and that 'after numerous evaluations, no medical
professional has concluded that Teresa Lewis meets the medical or
statutory definition of mentally retarded'. Lawyer
Richard Dieter, executive of the Death Penalty Information Centre, a
Washington research group which opposes capital punishment, predicted
that Lewis's execution would leave a 'bad taste with a lot of people
who even support the death penalty'.
He added that he was convinced she would not have been given the death penalty had she been sentenced by a jury.
Lewis is due to die on Thursday by lethal injection at the Greensville Correction Centre in the rural Virginia town of Jarratt.
The Supreme Court can issue a stay of execution while it considers
defence claims that, given her low IQ, Lewis's execution would be
unconstitutionally 'cruel and unusual'.
However, the court is inundated wi th intervent ion requests and Lewis's supporters are not hopeful.
Lewis, whose only previous criminal offence was for forging a
prescription, has reportedly proved a model inmate in prison and has
found God.
'I'm a little nervous... I'm also scared. But I am peaceful because
I've got Jesus with me,' she told CNN shortly before her appeal for
clemency was denied.
Mr Dieter said yesterday that, far from Lewis's gender encouraging the court's leniency, it had actually worked against her.
He argued that so few women are involved in more heinous murders that,
when they are, they cause greater offence than if they had been men.
'Virginia's attorney general really pushed the fact that she had
committed adultery with a co-defendant and that she was somehow
dishonoured and should be looked down upon,' he said, also noting the
peculiar language of the judge in describing her as the head of the
'When women cross a certain line and are seen as going outside their
societal role, they are considered particularly evil and dangerous,' he


“She is clearly the head of this serpent,” the judge said of Teresa Lewis in 2003 when he sentenced her to death by lethal injection, describing her as the mastermind of the cold-blooded murders of her husband and his son as they slept in rural Virginia.
Virginia Department of Corrections
Teresa Lewis, who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday night at 9, was called the mastermind of a double murder. Her I.Q. of 72 is considered borderline retarded.
Late on Tuesday, the Supreme Courtdenied her last-ditch appeal for a stay, and Ms. Lewis, now 41, is scheduled to die on Thursday night at 9. Her case has drawn unusual attention, not only because she would be the first woman executed in the United States since 2005, and the first in Virginia since 1912, but also because of widely publicized concerns about the fairness of her sentence. Ms. Lewis waited this week in her prison cell, reportedly soothed by intense religious faith.
Her lawyers say her original defense against the death penalty was bungled. They also cite new evidence suggesting that Ms. Lewis — whose I.Q. of 72 is described by psychologists as borderline retarded — was manipulated by her co-conspirators, who were out to share in savings and life insurance worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Her partners in the crimes, two young men who fired the guns, received sentences of life without parole in what her lawyers call a “gross disparity” in punishment.
On Tuesday, blocking her only other chance for a reprieve, Gov. Bob McDonnell said for the second time that he would not grant clemency for what he called her “heinous crimes.”
Ms. Lewis’s guilt is not at issue. By her own admission, she plotted with the men to shoot her husband, Julian C. Lewis Jr., 51, and his son, Charles J. Lewis, 25, a reservist about to be deployed abroad.
Ms. Lewis, then 33, met her co-defendants, Matthew J. Shallenberger, who was 21, and his trailer-mate, Rodney L. Fuller, 20, in a line at Wal-Mart and, according to court records, they quickly started meeting and hatching murder plans. She became particularly attached to Mr. Shallenberger, showering him with gifts, but she had sex with both men and also encouraged her 16-year-old daughter to have sex with Mr. Fuller, the records say.
Ms. Lewis withdrew $1,200 and gave it to the two men to buy two shotguns and another weapon. The night of the murders, she admitted, she left a trailer door unlocked. Later, she stood by as the intruders blasted the victims with repeated shotgun blasts. As her husband lay dying, court records say, she took out his wallet and split the $300 she found with Mr. Shallenberger. She waited at least 45 minutes to call 911.
Her husband was moaning “baby, baby, baby” when a sheriff’s deputy arrived and he said, “My wife knows who done this to me,” before he died, the records indicate.
After initially claiming innocence, Ms. Lewis confessed and led police to the gunmen. In 2003, she was sentenced by Judge Charles J. Strauss of Pittsylvania Circuit Court, who concluded that Ms. Lewis had directed the scheme, enticing the killers with sex and promises of money and showing the “depravity of mind” that would justify a death sentence. In separate proceedings, the same judge gave life sentences to the gunmen.
Ms. Lewis’s lawyers later unearthed what they called compelling evidence that it was Mr. Shallenberger who did the enticing, including his own statements that he devised the murder plan and a prison letter to a girlfriend in which he said he “got her to fall in love with me so she would give me the insurance money.” Mr. Shallenberger killed himself in prison in 2006.
But prosecutors, in fighting subsequent appeals, said that before and after the crimes, Ms. Lewis had engaged in concerted actions to obtain money from her husband’s account and then from insurance, showing that she was far more capable than her lawyers now assert.
None of the evidence suggesting Mr. Shallenberger’s dominant role has been presented in court, but it was provided to Mr. McDonnell in a plea for clemency, along with details of her limited intellect, her diagnosis of “dependent personality disorder” and her addiction to pain pills.
When he first turned down the appeal on Friday, Mr. McDonnell noted that appeals courts have upheld her sentence and that “no medical professional has concluded that Teresa Lewis meets the medical or statutory definition of mentally retarded.”
Her lawyers argued in their petition to the Supreme Court that the case should be reopened because her original defense lawyer failed to explore whether her low intelligence and her psychiatric vulnerability would have left her able to plan the scheme. State prosecutors disagreed.
Opponents of the death penalty, and others who feel Ms. Lewis’s sentence is unjust, plan to hold vigils on Thursday, including one outside the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., where the execution is to take place.
“She said she is leaving it in the hands of Jesus,” her lead defense lawyer, James E. Rocap III, of Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, said on Tuesday, before she heard of the 7-to-2 decision by the Supreme Court not to consider her case.