US state executes woman for murder

Teresa Lewis, 41, is the first woman to be put to death in Virginia in almost 100 years.

Anti-death penalty campaigners rang a bell and prayed outside Greensville Correction Center [AFP]

The US state of Virginia has executed a 41-year-old grandmother for the murder of her husband and his son, the first woman to be put to death in Virginia in almost 100 years.

Teresa Lewis was killed by lethal injection in Greensville Correction Center at 9.13pm (0113 GMT) on Thursday.

Al Jazeera’s Anand Naidoo, reporting from outside the Greensville Correction Center, said that: “It took about 13 minutes from the time she entered the execution chamber from the time she was pronounced dead.”

“Officials said she walked on her own into the execution chamber, but media representatives – who witnessed the execution -said she looked nervous and scared.”

Abolitionists painted Lewis as an example of why capital punishment is flawed, saying she has diminished mental faculties and was taken advantage of by smarter accomplices.

Her lawyer, James Rocap, said: “Tonight the death machine exterminated the beautiful childlike and loving spirit of Teresa Lewis.”

But with an IQ of about 70 or above, Lewis was considered fit for trial in the southern state of Virginia and had pleaded guilty to hiring two men in 2002 to murder her husband and stepson to pocket their $350,000 life insurance policy.

Deathbed apology

Lewis appeared tearful as she was escorted into the death chamber on Thursday before being bound to a gurney with heavy leather straps.

In the moments before her execution, she asked if her husband’s daughter was there. Kathy Clifton, Lewis’ stepdaughter, was in an adjacent witness room blocked from the inmate’s view by a two-way mirror.

“I want Kathy to know that I love her and I’m very sorry,” Lewis said.

More than 7,300 appeals for clemency were made to Bob McDonnell, the Virginia governor, but he refused to intervene.

Our correspondent said that Lewis “had appealed to the governor of Virginia for a stay, she made two appeals to him, and he rejected both appeals on the grounds that there were no extenuating circumstances to grant a stay”. 

In a statement, the governor of Virginia said: “After numerous evaluations, no medical professional has concluded that Teresa Lewis meets the medical or statutory definition of mentally retarded.”

He said he could find “no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court and affirmed by all reviewing courts”.

Our correspondent said that her “attorneys had also appealed to the US Supreme Court. Two of the three female justices who sit on the bench of the Supreme Court did grant a stay, but they were overruled by the other seven justices”.

About 30 opponents of the death penalty rang a bell and prayed outside Greensville Correction Center as Lewis was put to death.

Murder ‘mastermind’

Lewis met Rodney Fuller and Matthew Shallenberger, her two accomplices, 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 admitted she left the door of the family trailer in rural Pittsylvania County open in 2002 so the two men could enter and shoot her husband and his 25-year-old son.

All three pleaded guilty to the murders. Fuller and Shallenberger got life in prison, but Lewis, who was deemed fit to stand trial, was sentenced to death as the mastermind of the killings.

But Lewis’s supporters offer a different picture of a borderline mentally disabled woman, who has struggled with a behavioral dependency disorder and was addicted to prescription drugs.

They also questioned why she should be executed when the two men who actually carried out the murder were handed life without parole.

Lewis’s lawyers had argued that new evidence had appeared since her trial that should prevent her execution.

The key piece of evidence they wanted considered was a letter from Shallenberger, who killed himself in jail in 2006, in which he claimed full responsibility for the murder plot and suggested 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.”

Ahmadinejad’s comment

Lewis’s case made global headlines on Tuesday when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, contrasted the lack of protest over her impending execution to the “storm” surrounding a woman sentenced to be stoned in Iran.

“A woman is being executed in the United States for murder but nobody protests against it,” Ahmadinejad told a group of Islamic figures in the US on Monday, according to IRNA, Iran’s official news agency.

Iran has been under international pressure to spare the life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in 2006.

Lewis is only the 12th woman to be executed in the US since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976. In that time 1,215 people have been executed.

“The last execution of a woman [in Virginia] took place in 1912, a woman who had murdered her employer,” our corresponent said.

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

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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