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Virginia To Execute Accessory To Crime While Triggermen Got Life Sentences

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On Thursday evening, September 23, the Commonwealth of Virginia is scheduled to execute Teresa Lewis for the 2002 murders of her husband and stepson.

Some in the media are hyping the execution because Lewis will be the first woman to be executed in Virginia in nearly a century. Being a feminist, I don't think a woman deserves any different treatment than a man would get for committing the same crime. I just oppose the execution altogether.

Aside from my categorical opposition to the death penalty, here are some reasons why I find the Lewis case particularly disturbing:

First of all, she didn't pull the trigger. She was involved in the plot, but the actual killings were committed by her co-defendants, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller. But Lewis was given a death sentence while the triggermen, Shallenberger and Fuller, got life in prison!

That alone is incomprehensible, but the plot thickens: Lewis has an IQ in the 70-72 range, which is borderline mentally retarded for legal purposes. In 2002, the Supreme Court had ruled (in Atkins v. Virginia - same state) that execution of the mentally retarded amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The generally accepted cut-off for mental impairment is an IQ of 70. Her lawyers have argued that because of her low IQ, along with a personality disorder and drug use, it is unlikely that she could have "masterminded" the murders as the prosecution contents.

Evidence seems to point to her co-defendant Shallenberger as being the real mastermind behind the murders. In an excellent Washington Post op-ed by John Grisham, the acclaimed author makes points out the following:

"Her lawyers have also argued that Shallenberger, who committed suicide behind bars in 2006, masterminded the murders. They have pointed to evidence that he had an IQ of 113 and was known to be intelligent and manipulative.

"They have cited the sworn affidavit of a private investigator who interviewed Shallenberger in prison in 2004. This investigator said Shallenberger described Lewis as not very bright and as someone who could be easily duped into a scheme to kill her husband and stepson for money. According to the investigator, Shallenberger said: 'From the moment I met her I knew she was someone who could be easily manipulated. From the moment I met her I had a plan for how I could use her to get some money.'

"Lewis's lawyers have also cited a letter Shallenberger sent to a girlfriend shortly after he was sentenced, in which he wrote, 'I figured why go to New York for $20,000 a hit when I could do just one and make $350,000 off of it.' In the same letter he said of Lewis: 'She was exactly what I was looking for.'

"In addition, they have cited a 2004 affidavit by Shallenberger's fellow assassin, Fuller, who said this: 'As between Mrs. Lewis and Shallenberger, Shallenberger was definitely the one in charge of things, not Mrs. Lewis.'"

Nevertheless, on September 17, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell refused to issue a stay of execution.

At this point, it appears that there are only two things that could save Lewis's life:

1. The Supreme Court intervenes; or

2. Governor McDonnell reconsiders and changes his mind.

What you can do:

Contact Governor McDonnell and ask him to reverse his decision and commute Lewis's sentence to life in prison.

The group Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty have provided the following guidelines:

The time is NOW to take further action to save Teresa's life. We are not giving up. Let Governor McDonnell know that he must reconsider his unjust and inhumane decision. Click on this link, which will take you directly to Governor McDonnell's webpage for receiving emails:

E-mail Governor McDonnell

You may include your own text for your message to Governor McDonnell, or you may wish to include the following message:

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)

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