Death Penalty

Virginia to Execute its 1st Woman in 93 Years: Teresa Lewis

| by Mark Berman Opposing Views

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in to stop it, Virginia will execute its first woman in nearly a century on Thursday. Teresa Lewis, 41, is on death row for arranging the murders of her husband and stepson.

Opponents of the death penalty urged Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell to grant clemency, saying Lewis is "borderline mentally retarded" and was manipulated by a smarter conspirator to commit the murder in order to get an insurance payout. But McDonnell said he would not spare her life.

The Washington Post writes: 

McDonnell, a death penalty supporter, said in an interview at the state Capitol late Friday that clemency petitions present some of "the toughest decisions" a governor faces. Over the past few weeks, he said, he has read court transcripts and documents submitted by Lewis's attorneys, although he has not talked directly with the families involved. He said Lewis's gender did not enter into his decision.

In a statement announcing the decision, McDonnell said Lewis had admitted the "heinous crimes" and noted that no medical professional has concluded that she is mentally retarded under Virginia law. "I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court," McDonnell said.

The two men who actually committed the murders, one of whom was Lewis' lover, were sentenced to life in prison. One of them made a deal to avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty and accepting a life sentence, The judge said it would be unfair to sentence the second man to a harsher penalty for the same crime.

But in sentencing Lewis to death, the judge said she was the "head of this serpent."

Lewis' supporters say tests show she has an IQ of 72. The threshold for mental retardation as defined by the courts is less than 70. The Supreme Court has ruled executing the mentally impaired is unconstitutional.

Eleven woman have been executed since the death penalty was restored in the U.S. in 1976. The last one was in Texas in 2005.

The last time Virginia executed a woman was in 1917, when a 17-year-old girl was put to death for murdering* her boss after being accused of stealing a gold locket.

(*Editor's Note: In our first edition of the story, we said the girl received the death penalty due to theft. Our readers let us know the sentence seemed just a tiny bit harsh. Sure enough, there was a murder charge also included.)