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.