The US state of Virginia was yesterday set to execute its first woman in almost 100 years after the Supreme Court earlier this week refused to grant a last-minute reprieve.
Teresa Lewis, 41, is due to die by lethal injection and become the first woman to be put to death in Virginia since Virginia Christian, a black 17-year-old who died in the electric chair in 1912.
The top court said on Tuesday in a brief ruling that the stay of execution requested “is denied.”
Death penalty abolitionists have championed Lewis’ case as an example of why capital punishment is flawed, insisting she has diminished mental faculties and was taken advantage of by smarter accomplices.
However, with an IQ of about 70 or above, Lewis is considered fit for trial in Virginia. She pleaded guilty to hiring two men in 2002 to murder her husband and stepson to pocket their US$350,000 life insurance policy.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has said he will not intervene to stop the execution, which would appear to remove any chance of a reprieve.
Lewis met Rodney Fuller and Matthew Shallenberger in a Walmart superstore. Soon she began an affair with the 22-year-old Shallenberger and encouraged her 16-year-old daughter to get together with Fuller, who was 19.
Lewis admits she left the door of the family trailer in Pittsylvania County open in 2002 so the two young accomplices could enter and shoot her husband and his 25-year-old son, who was in the military.
All three pleaded guilty. The triggermen got life in prison but Lewis was sentenced to death as the mastermind of the killings.
Lewis’ supporters question why she should be executed when the two men who actually carried out the murder were handed life without parole.
Her lawyers argue that new evidence, including her low IQ, has appeared since her trial that should prevent her execution.
The key piece of evidence they wanted considered was a letter from Shallenberger, who killed himself in jail in 2006, in which he claims full responsibility for the murder plot.
“From the moment I met her I knew she was someone who could be easily manipulated,” he allegedly wrote. “Killing Julian and Charles Lewis was entirely my idea. I needed money, and Teresa was an easy target.”
Her case made global headlines this week when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contrasted the lack of opposition to her impending execution to the “storm” surrounding a woman sentenced to be stoned in Iran.
“A woman is being executed in the United States for murder but nobody protests against it,” Ahmadinejad told a group of Islamic figures in the US on Monday, according to IRNA, Iran’s official news agency.
Iran has been under international pressure to spare the life of 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in 2006.
Lewis will become only the 12th woman to be executed in the US since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976. In that time 1,215 people have been executed.
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