Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yeah, But She Wanted Him Dead

The Commonwealth of Virginia intends to murder Teresa Lewis tomorrow for a killing nobody thinks she committed.
It's not that she's factually innocent.  It's just that she's not the killer.  Laura Bassett, in the Huntington Post, explained.
Teresa Lewis, a borderline mentally retarded woman charged with "masterminding" the murder of her husband and stepson in 2002, is slated to be the first woman in almost a century to be executed in Virginia this month.
Lewis, 40, pleaded guilty to hiring two men, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller, to murder her husband and stepson so that she could collect a $350,000 life insurance policy. Both triggermen were handed life sentences, but Judge Charles Strauss gave Lewis the death penalty, reasoning that she was "clearly the head of this serpent."
Except, of course, there's more.  John Grisham laid it out in the Washington Post.
(1)She has an IQ of just above 70 -- borderline retarded -- and as such lacks the basic skills necessary to organize and lead a conspiracy to commit murder for hire;

(2) She has dependent personality disorder and therefore complied with the demands of those upon whom she relied, especially men;

(3) Because of a long list of physical ailments she had developed an addiction to pain medications, and this adversely affected her judgment; and

(4) She had not a single episode of violent behavior in the past.
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." 
Not enough. Not, at least, according to Virginia's Governor, Robert McDonnell.  He issued this statement.

On May 15, 2003, Teresa Lewis pled guilty to two counts of capital murder for hire of her husband, Julian Lewis, and her stepson, Charles Lewis, as well as other associated charges.  On July 1, 2003, the Pittsylvania County Circuit Court sentenced her to death on both counts.  On July 29, 2010, the Pittsylvania County Circuit Court set the execution date for September 23, 2010.  

The record reflects that in the fall of 2002, Teresa Lewis conspired with two men to murder her husband and her stepson, a U.S. Army reservist set to deploy for active duty, in order to obtain her husband's assets, including the life insurance proceeds from another son's accidental death, and her stepson's life insurance policy.  In furtherance of the plot, Teresa Lewis agreed to share the proceeds with her co-conspirators, paid for the firearms and ammunition used in the murders, and enticed her 16 year-old daughter to become involved in the murder plans.  Teresa Lewis intentionally left a rear door to their home unlocked to allow the co-conspirators to easily enter the premises.  After one unsuccessful attempt to kill her husband a week earlier, the plan reached its tragic conclusion in the early hours of October 30, 2002.  After her co-conspirators shot the two victims multiple times with shotguns at close range, Lewis waited more than 45 minutes to call emergency response personnel, during which time her husband was still alive.  Lewis initially denied involvement in the murders but confessed a week later when faced with the evidence against her.

Lewis filed a Petition for Executive Clemency on August 25, 2010, requesting that I commute the sentence of death to a sentence of life without parole. 

Lewis's guilty plea, verdict, and sentence have been reviewed by state and federal courts.  The Supreme Court of Virginia, the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit have unanimously upheld the sentence in this case.  The Supreme Court of the United States denied her petition for certiorari once and has another petition pending.  Lewis does not deny that she committed these heinous crimes.

Numerous psychiatrists and psychologists have analyzed Lewis, both before and after her sentencing.  After numerous evaluations, no medical professional has concluded that Teresa Lewis meets the medical or statutory definition of mentally retarded. 
Having carefully reviewed the petition for clemency, the judicial opinions in this case, and other relevant materials, I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court and affirmed by all reviewing courts. 

Accordingly, I decline to intervene and have notified the appropriate counsel and family of my decision.

Which put it to the Supreme Court.  Which said no.

Teresa Lewis entry                                                            
And so she is to be killed.  By the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Tomorrow.  For a murder she did not commit.
But I'm struck by something in that Supreme Court entry.  The two dissenters, the two (and only two) who thought her murder should be stopped and the case should be heard, were Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor.  And they are, of course, two of the women on the Court.  Is that relevant?  Just maybe.
Just maybe it leads them to understand how a woman might be not the mastermind of the murder plot but someone who got sucked into it through her own problems, her inability to stand up for herself, her mental weaknesses.  Maybe it's that touch of the "E" word that Sotomayor insisted she had none of when before the judiciary committee. Maybe it's hell, I don't know.
Of course, maybe it's nothing at all.  Maybe Ginsburg and Sotomayor just happened to be the two (the only two) would found her legal arguments sufficiently compelling to pursue.
Because before you start thinking about gender bias and the E word, you might remember that there are now three (count 'em, three) women on the Court.
Justice Sotomayor's first substantive vote as a new justice was to halt an execution.
Justice Kagan's letting them go forward.
And so Teresa Lewis is to be killed.  By the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Tomorrow.  For a murder she did not commit.

Teresa Lewis


  1. I haven't read the case in great detail, however I think that the final decision is a case for Ockham's Razor: Did Teresa Lewis know about the plot to murder her husband, including the details? Everything I've read would indicate that yes indeed, Teresa did know. Is Teresa intelligent enough and legally sane enough to know that this action is a crime, and that this action is morally wrong? Yes and maybe, in that order. Is Teresa intelligent enough to conceive this crime and construct the plot to carry out the crime? Maybe and no, in that order. Yes, the idea might have occurred to Teresa, but I don't see anyone who is borderline retarded (AKA a real dumb ass) coming up with a plan and enlisting the aid of two other back woods geniuses to carry it out. Maybe more to the point, I don't think Teresa understood her position in the justice system, nor can I imagine Teresa was represented by adequate legal council or represented in a timely manner. Given all that, Teresa should be doing 20 to life.

  2. Jeff, maybe its been covered elsewhere, but I haven't seen it. Is there a backstory to how this woman pled open with death still on the table?

  3. The two actual killers had entered pleas and gotten life. They figured she would, too. (I assume there was a whole rationale about acceptance of responsibility and the like.) They were wrong.