September 23, 2010: Execution of Teresa Lewis, Virginia's Only Female on Death Row


WHAT HAPPENED?


On September 23, 2010, Virginia's only woman on death row, Teresa Lewis, was executed by lethal injection for the 2002 murders of her husband and step son for the life insurance payout. She was the first woman to die of lethal injection from Virginia.


The last time Virginia had executed a woman was 1912. The case led to further debate over capital punishment due to her gender and mental capacity.



BACKGROUND AND MURDERS


Teresa Lewis, born Teresa Wilson, grew up in Danville, Virginia in poverty while her parents worked in a textile mill. She was involved in church during her youth, but at 16, dropped out of school to marry a man she had met at church. The couple had a daughter, Christie Lynn Bean, but they divorced shortly after. Teresa turned to alcohol and painkillers to cope with the divorce. Her mother-in-law described her once daughter-in-law as "not right".


Teresa spent most of her early adult life working in various low paying jobs. But in 2000, she found more steady work at the Dan River textile mill. There, she met and began dating her supervisor, Julian Clifton Lewis Jr. He had recently lost his wife, and had 3 children from his previous marriage. Shortly after meeting, she moved into Julian's home with Christie, now 16. They married in the summer of 2000.


In December of 2001, Julian's oldest son, Jason, was killed in a car accident, which left Julian with $200,000 from his life insurance policy. He used the money to buy the family a home on 5 acres of land in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Then, in August of 2002, Julian's youngest son, Charles, obtained a $250,000 life insurance policy, as he was intending to deploy to Iraq. His father was the primary, and Teresa was the secondary beneficiary.


That fall, Teresa met 21-year-old Matthew Jessee Shallenberger and 19-year-old Rodney Lamont Fuller at a Wal-Mart, and began a sexual relationship with both of them. Unfortunately, there is no additional information as to how a grown woman (who is not super attractive, if you checked out her mug shot) began sleeping with 2 young dudes she met at a grocery store, but we just have to go with it.


Now that she had these 2 men under her thumb, she cooked up a plan. She would pay them $1,200 to kill Julian and Charles for the insurance money. When Charles was home in October from Army training, they tried to kill him while he was driving, but they failed.


The next week, on the night of October 30, Shallenberger and Fuller entered the house through a back door that Teresa had left open for them. She waited in the kitchen, while Shallenberger shot Julian and Fuller shot Charles. To ensure they were dead, Teresa waited for 45 minutes before calling for help. While awaiting the police's arrival, she took money from her husband's wallet and divided $300 between her weirdo sexual partner hit men before they left.


When the police arrived, Julian was still alive, and he said, "My wife knows who done this to me," while she claimed that the 2 had been killed by 2 unidentified home invaders. But shortly after, Teresa was caught trying to withdraw $50,000 from her husband's account. And within a week, she confessed to police that she had offered money to have her husband killed. She had tried to gather the money from her husband and stepson before they even had their funerals.


Though Teresa was deemed the "mastermind" of the crime, a forensic psychiatrist stated that she had a full IQ of only 72, a verbal IQ of 70, and a performance IQ of 79. "She's not mentally retarded, but she is very, very close to it," her lawyer stated. She was addicted to pain pills, and 3 different psychology experts diagnosed her with dependent personality disorder.

SENTENCING AND EXECUTION


The evidence against Teresa was overwhelming, and she was encouraged to plead guilty. Her lawyers believed that the judge may show some leniency because she had been cooperating with investigators, and because of her diminished mental state. Despite this, she was sentenced to die, as multiple murders within a 3-year period are subject to the death penalty. Shallenberger and Fuller, the men who actually took her husband and step-son's lives, were sentenced to life in prison.


Additionally, Teresa's daughter Christie served 5 years because she was aware of the plan, but failed to report it to anyone.


In November of 2004, a private investigator met Shallenberger. He described that Teresa was in love with him, but she wasn't very smart. Then, he tore up the affidavit he wrote and ate it. He committed suicide in prison in 2006.


Over 7,300 appeals for clemency were sent to Virginia's governor, Bob McDonnell. Supporters of Teresa claim that she has been a model prisoner, and that she was deeply remorseful for her actions. Despite the pleas, McDonnell did not stop the execution. "I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court and affirmed by all reviewing courts," he said.


Their last attempt was a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution, but it was denied on September 21, 2010. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor indicated that they would have granted the stay, but they were overruled.


For her last meal, Teresa ate 2 fried chicken breasts, sweet peas with butter, a Dr. Pepper, and an apple pie. She apologized to her stepdaughter Kathy, apologizing for killing her father and brother. (That poor girl. Her mom died. Very soon after, her father remarried. Then, her older brother died in a car accident. Then, her stepmother killed her dad and only remaining brother. Her stepmother went to prison and her stepsister did, as well. She had no one.)


Teresa spent her last few hours alive praying and singing. She was executed on September 23, 2010 at 9:00 PM, the 12th woman to be executed after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

REACTIONS AND AFTERMATH


Like most things, her execution sprung on a debate in the U.S. about capital punishment, and specifically, capital punishment against women. One argument is that so few women are involved in such heinous crimes, "when they [do], they cause greater offense than if they had been men." Meh. Others believed that her "callous, manipulating, adulterous, greedy, egregious behavior" justified the death sentence.


Thousands argued that her death should have been commuted to a life sentence. "A good and decent person is about to lose her life because of a system that is broken," her lawyer said of the woman who paid 2 men to murder her family and then tried to withdraw the money before they were even in the ground. However, part of the criticism was that Shallenberger, the "mastermind" according to her supporters, only received a life sentence. John Grisham, legal novelist, claimed that Shallenberger's 113 IQ as compared to Teresa's 72 IQ meant he was definitely in charge of things.


For me, my feelings on capital punishment are the same as always, and I don't think it is fair for different rules to exist for men vs. women. For me, I am anti-death penalty. And honestly, not for super moral reasons (though it is certainly a grey area for me), but for logistical reasons: the "oops, that person ended up being innocent!" rate is not 0%, which I think it absolutely needs to be before anyone else is killed by the American government. When there is any possibility for mistakes, it shouldn't happen. Ever. Period.


In this case, it is pretty clear that she was involved (I mean, she confessed and she apologized), but it is the principle for me. But regardless, the question shouldn't be "should she be executed because she's a woman?" it should be "should she be executed because her mental capacity was lower than the average person?" And that's a debatable proposition. To me, that should probably sit somewhere like where capital punishment for juveniles sits... not allowable because of their age. But I'm not sure. She was a grown, functioning adult. She certainly knew what she planned to do was wrong. She was just... stupid. Right? I mean, she was diagnosed with mental health conditions but nothing like mental retardation or anything that would lead to such a low IQ. She was just an unintelligent person. Unintelligent people still know that murder is wrong!


So, in conclusion, based on the rules and laws that currently exist, yes, I do believe that she was eligible for and not unreasonably executed. Sure, it is kind of weird that the actual killers didn't get the same sentence, but they went to trial. Charles Manson got a much worse sentence than the people who actually committed the Tate-LaBianca murders. Being the mastermind, or hiring a hit-person, is still a terrible crime. So given the current laws, I don't think it was bad to sentence her to death or to execute her. But overall, I still think the U.S. should not have the death penalty.


More than anything, my heart breaks for Kathy. I cannot imagine losing so many people in so many different, traumatizing ways at such an impressionable time in her life. The unexpected death of her mom, the car accident death of her brother, the murder of her other brother and father, and the loss of her step mom and step sister to prison for the crime. How do you move forward? How can you handle such a bad hand and come out the other side? I hope she has, but oof, it would be so very hard.


I will admit: even I treated this case differently than when the perpetrator is a male. Typically, I use the first names of victims and last names of perpetrators. But the whole story, I called her "Teresa". I didn't even realize it, but I guess even I see her as a "lesser" criminal because of her gender. But again, her gender should not be the deciding factor of her punishment. And in some ways, I'm glad it wasn't, even if the death penalty isn't something I support.


I hope that Charles and Julian are resting in peace, and that Kathy has been able to move forward with her life, having lost everyone close to her. The world is probably a better place without Teresa Lewis being in it, and with her 2 hitmen behind bars.

REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_Lewis

https://www.france24.com/en/20100924-usa-borderline-disabled-grandmother-put-death-double-murder-teresa-lewis-insurance-capital-punishment


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