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Virginia plans to execute Teresa Lewis on Thursday evening at 9 pm.  There's no question she was deeply involved in two murders nine years ago, that of her husband and of her son.  But you have to ask why she's being killed when the two men who actually fired the weapons received life sentences.  And you have to wonder what the point of killing someone with an IQ of 72 might be, even if you're not ordinarily appalled at the prospect of lethal injection.

The crime in this case is horrendous. There's no question that it merits at the very least long term imprisonment. The New York Times provides the following about the crime:

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.

The judge who imposed the death sentence said of Lewis, "She is clearly the head of this serpent.”  But there are questions about that.  According to the Times,

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.

No evidence about Shallenberger’s role has been presented in court, but it was given to Governor 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.  He rejected her request for clemency stating that the appeals courts had upheld her sentence and that “no medical professional has concluded that Teresa Lewis meets the medical or statutory definition of mentally retarded.” Nice.

If Lewis's IQ were 70 instead of 72, she would be unable to be executed under the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Atkins v. Virginia. She would be too developmentally disabled to perceive why she was being executed.

How seriously can one take the argument that the "mastermind" of a crime, "the head of this serpent" has an IQ of 72 and that's why she should be executed even when the gunmen aren't?

I consider the death penalty an exercise in barbarousness.  Virginia's planned killing of Lewis exemplifies this.  There is no reason why she cannot be incarcerated for a long time.  And there is nothing to be gained from killing her that will not be accomplished by imprisonment: her execution for a 2002 crime will not deter others, particularly those with developmental disabilities, from committing murders.  Once again the state will kill in our name.  And the reason for the killing will elude us.

simulposted at The Dream Antilles and The Stars Hollow Gazette and docuDharma

Originally posted to davidseth on Wed Sep 22, 2010 at 08:47 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Teresa Lewis should be spared. (10+ / 0-)

    And the death penalty should be abolished.  As long as there's a death penalty, we're going to have displays of barbarousness like the one Virginia's planning on Thursday night.

    Thanks for reading.

  •  IQ is not a perfect indicator of intelligence (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    davidseth, lineatus, speak2me

    anyway, but the death penalty should be abolished. Other countries have done so, and don't seem to have suffered. There are other ways to exact justice without resorting to killing and torture.

  •  The reason is simple (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    She's a woman. Women are evil. Read the bible, it says so, right there at the beginning. It's all women's fault.


    BTW, should I have misspelled that?

    FOSI: Full Of Shit Information - Both my sister and I are trivia freaks...

    by Spoc42 on Wed Sep 22, 2010 at 09:17:18 AM PDT

  •  Favor (0+ / 0-)

    I'm in favor of the death penalty in some cases.  This is one of them.  Both women and Caucasians are statistically at an advantage in avoiding it (which is a problem) but the fact that she's up despite this says a lot about the situation.  To me, this is justice.  

    Currently Top Ten in Slate's Lean/Lock game!

    by greatdarkspot on Wed Sep 22, 2010 at 09:23:03 AM PDT

  •  THIS is McDonnell's Modus Operendi!! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    What could be better for him politically than to be tough on crime and victimize a woman at the same time?? The man is a religious ideologue. But not chrisitian, there is nothing Christ like in conservatism. More like a convenience christian type of republican where inhumanity gains him points with his VA elecorate. MACHO MAN, TOUGH ON CRIME.

  •  This is 1 case where multiple tests & confidence (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    intervals around the standard scores were used. I'm sure with a standard score of 72 that the 95% CI would have included 70 in it. It's not hard to shift standard scores by a point or two just be changing the day on which you administer the test.

    I hope that multiple tests were used. Probably not.

    70 is considered a critical score because it's 2 standard deviation below the norm when the mean of the test is 100 and the standard deviation is 15. 68% of the population will score between 85-115 or within 1 standard deviation/ within normal limits. Another 16% will score between 70-84 or within 2 standard deviations below the norm.

    To qualify for speech-language services in most school districts, children must score 78 or below (1 1/2 standard deviations) on at least 2 standardized measures. I wonder if that same standard was applied to this case.

  •  I don't think she's been defended the right way (0+ / 0-)

    The tests don't comport with all of the narrative evidence--including her public statement less than a week ago--that's she's cognitively just fine.  

    I'd defend her by pointing out that she merely gave verbal instructions--without coercion or threat or some purpose-built organization--to commit murder.  Obviously that's a serious offense but it's completely perverse to punish it more severely than the physical act of murder.  She wasn't running Murder Inc.  

    This mania for punishing the other actors--the lookout, the person who wants to rid themselves of this meddlesome priest, etc.--as severely as the murderer, by defining them as co-murderers, only barely makes sense when you're talking about equal sentences.  But it makes no sense when you're talking about a more severe sentence, especially death.

    I have no problems with capital punishment so I'm usually in a small minority here.  But this case is a gross miscarriage of justice--just not for the reason that's being invoked, much too late.  Right now I'd make an ineffective-counsel argument, basically because the lawyers didn't do what I would have done!    

    The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

    by Rich in PA on Wed Sep 22, 2010 at 10:02:40 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for posting this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I am completely opposed to the death penalty.

    I am sorry I missed this earlier today - I saw your link in CIK.

    "If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition" Bernice Johnson Reagon

    by Denise Oliver Velez on Wed Sep 22, 2010 at 06:13:17 PM PDT

  •  I am opposed to the death penalty (0+ / 0-)

    But if a jurisdiction has such a vengeful weapon to wield, it must do so a judiciously as possible. But you should understand that IQ is a terrible measure to use as an eligibility criteria.

    [As a side bar: when was her IQ tested? Before or after the crime?]

    It matters little whether a person has an IQ of 60 or 100 when considering matters of intent for capital crimes. My 25 year old developmentally delayed former neighbour has an IQ of 55. Yet he fully appreciates the finality of death and the wrongfulness of inflicting it on someone. If the situation ever arose where he was found to participate in the planning and execution of a murder I would be obliged to share with the court that he did so in "knowing capacity".


    If I wanted an uninformed opinion, I'd ask Sarah Palin.

    by Visionseeker on Thu Sep 23, 2010 at 08:10:19 PM PDT

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