WASHINGTON — 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. [...]
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. [...]
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."
I hasten to say that the killings are not to be condoned in any way; nor should Teresa Lewis' role in them be ignored. But is there any reason why life in prison without possibility of parole shouldn't be the more just punishment for a woman with a low IQ whose partners in crime received only this punishment, and no more? Does Lewis pose an ongoing threat to society? Does executing her protect the people of Virginia in any way?