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September 23, 2010

Virginia carries out execution of Teresa Lewis

As detailed in this new Washington Post story, "Teresa Lewis, who plotted with a young lover to kill her husband and stepson for insurance money, became the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly 100 years Thursday night when she was killed by lethal injection." Here are more details of what makes this execution notable:

Lewis is the 12th woman to be executed in the United States since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. The most recent was in Texas in 2005, when Frances Newton was killed by lethal injection for shooting her husband and two children.

Although the fight for Lewis's life did not draw nearly the attention of that surrounding Karla Faye Tucker, the pickax killer turned born-again Christian executed in 1998, more than 5,500 people signed an electronic petition asking McDonnell to spare her.

The Virginia Catholic Conference, the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and the ARC of Virginia, which advocates for people with mental disabilities, were among the groups that urged that Lewis's sentence be commuted to life in prison....

Her supporters never said that Lewis was innocent or that she shouldn't be punished. But they said she did not deserve to die because she was borderline mentally retarded, with the intellectual ability of about a 13-year-old, and was manipulated by a smarter conspirator. It was wrong for her to be sentenced to death, they said, when the two men who fired the shots received life terms.

This related story in The National Law Journal is headlined "Attorney: Teresa Lewis a 'Poster Child' for Broken Death Penalty System."

September 23, 2010 at 09:39 PM | Permalink


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Another just sentence. The two triggermen get life; and the retarded woman who was manipulated by the triggerman gets death. Wait, there's more. She pleaded guilty! Now it makes more sense. The death penatly is her just reward for acceptance of responsiblity and saving the familly of the victim the ordeal of a trial and state oodles of bucks. I'm glad I worked out the logic of this one.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Sep 23, 2010 10:05:38 PM

@Michael R Levine
1. The only proof she was manipulated is the boasting of a dead criminal. How do you know he wasn't claiming to be the mastermind to appear more impressive to his fellow inmates? In an environment filled with rape and abuse, that seems wise.
2. You can fail an IQ test on purpose.
3. She plead guilty in an attempt to save herself, the judge had never sentenced anyone to death while juries in the county had sentenced inmates to death.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Sep 23, 2010 10:17:19 PM

Wow, it really is amazing how upset people get over this execution. She callously let her own husband suffer from his mortal wounds without lifting a finger to help him.

And it is interesting, this supposedly mentally retarded woman was somehow a big influence in her prison. I suppose that's possible, but that's quite a needle to thread.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 23, 2010 10:30:01 PM

So she had the mental acuity of a 13 year-old. This is mitigating? Not exactly. I never met a 13 year-old who didn't know it was wrong to kill, much less to kill just to get money.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 23, 2010 10:40:56 PM

Bill, why do you even buy the premise? Given Rocap's hyperbole, anything he says about the case has to get a pretty steep discount.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 23, 2010 11:16:26 PM

federalist --

I buy (or, slightly more precisely, I accept) the premise because I have found it to be an effective way to argue to go along with the other side's version of facts and then show that their conclusion STILL does not follow.

It would have been one thing if the defense had been claiming Lewis had the mental capacity of a three year-old. Then I'd need to take on the premise. But it struck me as just silly for the defense to be claiming that Lewis should avoid the court's judgment because she could "only" think like a 13 year-old.

The claim is essentially that a 13 year-old mind cannot form malevolent intent that would be recognized as such in the adult world. But anyone who's ever run across a 13 year-old (or for that matter, has ever BEEN a 13 year-old) knows that's ridiculous. A 13 year-old is full well able to distinguish right from wrong and to intend to do wrong in exactly the same way an adult would intend it.

Since the abolitionist argument in this case disintegrates merely upon stating it, there was no need to fuss about whether the defense might have been telling the truth about (or instead conveniently minimizing, as so often happens) the killer's mental acuity. Assuming exactly what they claimed, they still never got out of the mens rea gate.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 24, 2010 12:31:35 AM

1. Bill, if you think a 13 year old thinks like and adult, acts like an adult, and should be punished like an adult, I wonder if you ever truly were 13.

2. Mr. Levine's sardonic observation that the woman got death for pleading guilty troubles me greatly, particularly where the actual triggermen didn't. Is that fair? Not to me. Furthermore, doesn't send a message to the guilty to fess up- "fess up now, and we'll execute you." I would think society wants folks to plead guilty; but maybe I'm missing somethin here.

Posted by: anon1 | Sep 24, 2010 1:16:00 AM

Posted by: anon1 | Sep 24, 2010 1:16:00 AM

I've yet to hear a decent argument why one instance of undeserved mercy requires other such instances.

The only thing this case demonstrates being broken is that the other two didn't also get a date with a needle.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 24, 2010 2:38:01 AM

UNITED NATIONS - President Obama outlined a leading role for the United States in promoting human rights and democracy around the world Thursday, laying out a new foreign policy initiative that his advisers said will guide his diplomacy in the years ahead. - Washington Post

Anyone see the joke?

Posted by: peter | Sep 24, 2010 3:30:41 AM

By the modern definition of mental retardation, a murder mastermind cannot have mental retardation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 24, 2010 5:56:23 AM

How come every time a woman is in line for execution it is the same story. Battered by the husband, easily influenced by the other perpretrators,unfair trial, borderline mentally retarded, etc.

Posted by: DaveP | Sep 24, 2010 6:36:15 AM

The contradiction as always: she plots a killing and is a murderer, but those who kill her aren't murderers, because of some written 'rule'.
Burst that bubble: executioners are the true scum on this earth.

Posted by: Omni | Sep 24, 2010 7:06:34 AM

Undeserved mercy, Soronel? Who's to say who deserves mercy and who doesn't? Bill Otis? Federalist? MikeinCT?

And tell me please, would you want any of those folks deciding whether you deserved mercy for a misstep or mistake?

Posted by: John K | Sep 24, 2010 8:23:28 AM

Wouldn't that make all cops and jailers kidnappers?

Posted by: MikeinCT | Sep 24, 2010 9:47:34 AM

Bill and Federalist--you two are great! And you both have points that strike home (at least with me). I agree that a 13 year old mind is VERY capable of devious thought--in fact, that seems to be what they learn first. I also agree that it sucks when one person, the "mastermind," if you will, is sentenced to death and the "triggermen" are not.

Of course, one of the triggermen killed themselves, which begs the question: Isn't the death penalty better than life without parole? Apparently some people think so. Having never been to prison, I can't say for sure!

But, aside from truly enjoying the back and forth between you two, I will add that I, having been a strong conservative for as long as I can remember, have recently become a bit more disturbed about the death penalty. It is just the marching of a person to their death that strikes me wrong.

Oh well. Keep up the good battle!


Posted by: Grizwalter | Sep 24, 2010 9:59:03 AM

Quoting from another source:
"She also arranged sex with Fuller and her daughter, who was 16, in a parking lot."

This woman used her own 16-year-old daughter as a pawn to convince these men to kill her husband. With all the joyous "child molester" chants to execute people involved in the exploitation of children, somehow this fact gets overlooked by the people calling for her to live.

Posted by: JW | Sep 24, 2010 10:33:27 AM

Also, pimping out your 16-year-old is NOT something a 13-year-old would think of.

Posted by: JW | Sep 24, 2010 10:37:15 AM


I suppose that was another "misstep or mistake" made by this railroaded defendant?

Posted by: Res ipsa | Sep 24, 2010 11:09:10 AM

Soronel, whether deserved or not, the triggermen did not get death. Now, if you were on the jury and knew that that fact, can you honestly say that you vote death for this woman?

Posted by: anon1 | Sep 24, 2010 11:20:41 AM

I really don't care that she was a woman or found God in prison or anything (God loves prisons; well, she did pray outside too, but admitted the rest of the time she was a sinner). The fact she was a woman did help her out. Someone who should know better even thought it really notable that Sotomayor and Ginsburg, but not Kagan, voted for a stay, when as someone noted, non-gender related reasons were probably involved.

The mental retarded issue is more important -- that is one that is a repeat issue of interest these days and I believe might even be a matter that will be addressed this upcoming term. If there is some doubt there, I think it appropriate to not execute her. I realize the "kill them!" brigade here disagree. But, if you execute someone and there are matters like that a reasonable person can disagree about, it's a problem. This too because of Atkins v. VA making this an issue under current law.

The fact the triggerman weren't executed (though one killed himself in prison) seems a tad off. Again, there is mixed evidence who was the true "head of the serpent" here (to quote the judge), which makes executing her seem a bit off. It isn't shocking or anything that she was deemed more heinous, but again I personally would put the whole thing to a higher test than it being reasonable.

Life in prison seems an appropriate punishment. But, even if you support the death penalty in some case, there are troubling issues. BTW, her lawyer's comments about how a sweet spirit or whatever died last night was a bit much, but I guess it's his job to speak such claptrap sounding stuff.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 24, 2010 11:39:42 AM

Posted by: anon1 | Sep 24, 2010 11:20:41 AM

I support the possibility of execution for crimes such as grand theft and felonious assault. Supporting the execution of a murderer while others in the plot did not share that fate is no stretch at all.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 24, 2010 12:33:38 PM

Mr. Bill, did you ever prosecute a defendant in an internet/interstate travel sting when the decoy pretended to be a 13-year-old but was actually a 30-year-old adult? And did you argue that 13-year-olds were too immature to consent to sex and then get a conviction and a prison term?

Pretzel logic is fascinating. It is arguing one way in one situation and arguing the opposite in another, a legally sanctioned cognitive dissonance. I offer no opinion on the execution (or stings) but only find the arguments here fascinating.

Posted by: George | Sep 24, 2010 1:45:24 PM

John K --

"Undeserved mercy, Soronel? Who's to say who deserves mercy and who doesn't? Bill Otis? Federalist? MikeinCT?"

The law says who is to deserve mercy. Her petition for clemency was denied. No one asked my opinion nor, as an individual citizen, is it relevant.

"And tell me please, would you want any of those folks deciding whether you deserved mercy for a misstep or mistake?"

First you absurdly referred to the murderer as a mere "troublesome citizen," and now you follow up by referring to the murders -- pre-arranged and purely for money -- as "a misstep or mistake."

It's not mercy you seek. It's looking the other way, just as you have wanted to look the other way for every single criminal you have ever discussed on this site.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 24, 2010 2:52:27 PM

I don´t know what´s about her state of mind, but I understand that the state of mind of lot´s of US citzens must be even lower. God bless you? Religious arguments you use a lot, but only if they don´t get in conflict with your primitive revenge-mentality. Justice made by primitive people aplaused by primitive people. You people become really equal to islam-fundamental mentality like Taliban, just one thing is still dividung you from them: It´s still not the victim´s family member that injects the poison..... Shame about you

Posted by: larens | Sep 24, 2010 4:26:13 PM

Jesus, Bill. Mercy can mean looking the other away. It can mean a life sentence instead of execution.

And did you really not understand the point I was making with the continuum or were you just being obtuse...again?

Res, I picked up on the sarcasm. Obviously I don't consider murder a misstep or mistake. The point you either missed or chose to ignore was that I certainly wouldn't want this blog's death squad deciding whether I deserved mercy, not even for a misstep or a mistake I might have made...because frankly I doubt any of them, and possibly you as well, are capable of mercy.

Posted by: John K | Sep 24, 2010 5:58:35 PM

In Atkins, all the Justices should have recused themselves. As lawyer dumbasses, they qualify for the modern definition of mental retardation. They were ruling on a question in which they all had a personal interest.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 24, 2010 8:31:47 PM

Larens: Comparison to the Taliban is now subsumed under Godwin's Law, and represents a throwing up of hands in the traverse, and knocking over your King in a chess match. You may not be aware of this Internet development.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 24, 2010 8:34:18 PM

John has no merciful feelings toward the victims. They generate no government make work sinecures, and may rot.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 24, 2010 8:35:30 PM

Come off it, John K. Why is coming to the conclusion that Teresa Lewis (and all the other murderers we've discussed) deserve to die indicative of a lack of mercy? Not that you'd want to, but if you actually read all of my posts in here you'd see that I have argued forcefully that in a regime of harsh punishment, an outlet for mercy is required.

Teresa Lewis committed a horrible crime and paid with her life. In the grand scheme of things, not a big deal. Even if you consider her execution to be an injustice, it's pretty small potatoes. So the question is why do you get so worked up that you use terms like "death squad" (although I have to admit that one's pretty good)? Do you like the feeling of moral superiority you have? Or are you just so lacking in moral courage that you mistake squeamishness for morality?

Teresa Lewis deserved to die. Does coming to that conclusion make me a barbarian?

Posted by: federalist | Sep 24, 2010 10:04:23 PM

Of course it makes you a barbarian. Don't you read ANYTHING on this blog?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 24, 2010 10:59:05 PM

"Even if you consider her execution to be an injustice, it's pretty small potatoes."

Uh huh. How could anyone ever accuse you, federalist, of being unmerciful?

Posted by: John K | Sep 25, 2010 7:59:29 AM

Bill writes, "The law says who is to deserve mercy. Her petition for clemency was denied. No one asked my opinion nor, as an individual citizen, is it relevant."

Spoken like a true authoritarian.

If I were a Bible thumper, which I'm not, I'd remind you that grace is receiving what we don’t deserve, and mercy is not receiving what we do deserve.

Posted by: John K | Sep 25, 2010 8:09:07 AM

John K, really, is the execution of Teresa Lewis that much of an injustice, as compared to say, the people charged with the public videotaping of police? Where is it on your scale? And please explain why.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 25, 2010 8:39:40 AM

John K --

"Spoken like a true authoritarian."

1. Either that or like a believer that democratically adopted and Constitutionally compliant statutes carry more weight in determining legal outcomes than individual opinions, yours or mine.

There is of course a school of thought that prefers individual opinions. It's called, "vigilantism." Culturally, it's called, "arrogance."

2. Grace and mercy are thought to be principally God's to dispense. There is a widespread opinion that they can also be practiced, imperfectly, by human beings. I am one of the people who holds that opinion, and I have been both the undeserving beneficiary of these gifts and, I hope, occasionally, the giver as well. But in my capacity as a public servant and an officer of the Department of Justice, my duty was to follow the law as established by those above my pay grade, even when I couldn't stand them (see, e.g., Nancy Pelosi).

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 25, 2010 8:44:44 AM

Bill: More on Nancy Pelosi, please.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 25, 2010 9:44:27 AM

A reader at Talk Left commented that all of the IQ tests were taken after arrest (where there was a motive to do poorly), that Lewis had a high school diploma, that she never failed a single class and that she had a nursing assistant degree. She was also responsible for the daily care of her own daughter and parents. Which is to say, she certainly did not seem like a moron. Her life does not in any way seem to have been affected by the perception that she was a moron. No one was taking care of her, or attempting to have her committed as a moron. These seem to be notable points.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Sep 25, 2010 11:39:04 AM

"Teresa Lewis deserved to die. Does coming to that conclusion make me a barbarian?".

No it doesn't. But wow, what a low standard to measure the justice system by- as long as a policy is not barbaric it's ok.I expect more from the greatest legal system on earth, but maybe that's my lack of "moral courage" talking.


Posted by: ph | Nov 16, 2010 12:16:49 AM

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