Virginia Could Execute 1st Woman in Nearly a Century

September 22, 2010 - 10:56 AM

Teresa Lewis

This 2007 file photo provided by newsPRos shows Teresa Lewis, 41, is scheduled to die by injection Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 for trading sex and money in the hired killings of her husband and stepson in October 2002. (AP Photo/newsPRos, File)

(AP) - A woman convicted of two hired killings is scheduled to die by injection Thursday and become the first woman put to death in Virginia in nearly a century, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block her execution.

Teresa Lewis, 41, was sentenced to death for providing sex and money to two men to kill her husband and stepson in October 2002 so she could collect on a quarter-million dollar insurance pay out. The nation's high court refused Tuesday to intervene.

Two of the three women on the court, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, voted to stop the execution. The court did not otherwise comment on its order.

The court's decision followed Gov. Bob McDonnell's refusal to reconsider a clemency request, which he rejected Friday.

"A good and decent person is about to lose her life because of a system that is broken," said attorney James E. Rocap III, who represents Lewis. He said he was referring to the decision by the Supreme Court and McDonnell's rejection of clemency.

Rocap appealed Monday to McDonnell to reconsider his decision to deny clemency to Lewis, claiming new evidence should spare Lewis the death penalty.

Rocap argued that one of the gunmen later claimed he manipulated Lewis, who is borderline mentally retarded, "to dupe her into believing he loved her so that he could achieve his own selfish goals."

McDonnell's legal counsel said the governor's decision would stand.

Based on a thorough review, "the governor found no compelling reason to grant clemency and made a final decision," J. Jasen Eige wrote to Rocap, who released the response Tuesday.

The Virginia case has had repercussions as far away as Iran.

An Iranian news agency reported Tuesday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the West of launching a "heavy propaganda" campaign against the case of an Iranian woman who had been sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery but failing to react with outrage over the imminent execution of Lewis in Virginia.

Ahmadinejad's reported comments came during a speech Monday to Islamic clerics and other figures in New York, where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly.

Lewis pleaded guilty in May 2003 to two counts of capital murder for hire in the slayings of her husband Julian Lewis and her stepson, Charles Lewis.

The triggermen, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller, were sentenced to life terms. Shallenberger, who Rocap names as the mastermind, committed suicide in prison in 2006.

"If she was not the mastermind - and it is now clear she was not - it is grossly unfair to impose the death sentence on her while Shallenberger and Fuller received life," Rocap wrote to McDonnell.

Teresa Lewis and Julian Clifton Lewis Jr. met in 2000 at a Danville textile factory where they worked and later married. In 2002, Julian's son Charles bought a $250,000 life insurance policy when he was called for active duty by the U.S. Army Reserve. He named his father as beneficiary.

Lewis offered herself and her 16-year-old daughter for sex to Shallenberger and Fuller. She stood by while they shot Lewis, 51, and his son, who was 25, in 2002 in Pittsylvania County in Southside Virginia.

Lewis rummaged through her husband's pockets for money while he lay dying and waited nearly an hour before calling 911.

Lewis allowed a judge to determine her sentence. Her attorneys believed she stood a better chance of getting a life prison term from the judge who had never sentenced anyone to death.

The last execution of a woman in the U.S. occurred in 2005 when Frances Newton died by injection in Texas. In Virginia, the last woman executed was in 1912, when 17-year-old Virginia Christian died in the electric chair for suffocating her employer.

Thousands of advocates have appealed for Lewis' clemency, arguing she is a changed woman. Her scheduled execution has also stirred interest because of her gender.

Out of more than 1,200 executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 women have been executed. Of the more than 3,200 inmates on death row nationwide, 53 are women.