The cruel and unusual punishment of Teresa Lewis

Teresa Lewis

originally published by:
22nd August 2010

On 23 September, 40-year-old Teresa Lewis will become the first woman to be executed in the state of Virginia for almost a century. She’ll also be the first woman put to death in the US since 2005.

Considering that, in the intervening five years, around 220 men will have been executed, it puts it into perspective: executing women is unusual. Of more than 1,200 executions carried out since the US supreme court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 were of women. And each time that happens, it’s stunningly bad PR for an increasingly unpopular facet of the American justice system.

The facts of the Lewis case are fairly gruesome. In 2002, she was convicted of persuading two men to kill her husband and stepson to collect a $250,000 life insurance policy. In return, she promised them a portion of the money, and sex with her and her 16-year-old daughter.

Lewis pleaded guilty. So you might think that this is a cut-and-dried death penalty case. But I don’t think so, and if you look at the facts, and consider the way the death penalty is administered in the US generally, it leaves more than a bad taste.

A forensic psychiatrist testified that Lewis has an IQ of 72, placing her in the “borderline range of intellectual functioning”. Her co-accused, Rodney Fuller and Matthew Shallenberger – the two gunmen who actually did the killing – were sentenced to life imprisonment Shallenberger actually committed suicide a few years later. And although the judge acknowledged that Lewis had led police to the men, he described what she had done as “horrible and inhumane”, and determining she had masterminded the whole thing, sentenced her to death.

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Teresa Lewis’ Execution Set For September 23 in Virginia
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