Death of a simple woman

Teresa Lewis became a symbol for opponents of the death penalty.

She was considered the "mastermind" of the murder of her husband and stepson after pleading guilty to hiring two men to kill them in 2002.

But despite having an IQ of only 72 and an accomplice claiming in a letter while in prison that he was behind the the plot, Lewis yesterday died by lethal injection in Greensville prison.

The 41-year-old grandmother became the first woman to be executed in the United States since 2005, and the first in Virginia for almost 100 years.

Lawyers, celebrities and others had argued that Lewis should have been given clemency. A petition attracted about 6000 signatures. Her supporters felt her life should be spared, considering her low IQ - anyone with an IQ of 70 avoids the death penalty - and the fact she had become a Christian while in prison.

Also, they saw an injustice in her receiving the death penalty when her accomplices received life sentences.

Instead, Lewis spent her final day with her family and sat down to a meal of fried chicken breasts, sweet peas with butter, a dessert and a Dr Pepper soft drink.

In the minutes leading up to her execution, she held hands and prayed with her chaplain and lawyer, Jim Rocap.

She then walked the 10 steps from her cell to the execution chamber, her jaw clenched, according to the Associated Press. Witnesses said she looked terrified.

Shortly before her execution, Lewis asked if her stepdaughter Kathy Clifton, daughter of her murdered husband Julian Lewis, was there. Clifton was in a witness room separated from the execution chamber by a two-way mirror.

"I want Kathy to know that I love her and I'm very sorry," Lewis said.

Those were her final words.

Lewis' hope for a last-minute stay of execution had rested with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Council of Europe goodwill ambassador Bianca Jagger had urged McDonnell to halt it the execution. "It is not too late. If Teresa Lewis is executed tonight in this questionable case it will be a gross miscarriage of justice, a lasting shame on the American legal system," she said.

He did not intervene. The US Supreme Court had turned down an appeal for a stay on Wednesday.

Lewis arranged for her husband and stepson to be killed so she could pick up US$250,000 ($343,000) in insurance from a policy her stepson Charles Lewis had taken out and which passed to his father on his death. She recruited Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller to carry out the murder.

On the night of the attack, she went to bed with her husband but got up to unlock the door and lock their dog in another room. Shallenberger and Fuller then shot her husband and stepson.

Lewis waited 45 minutes before ringing the police. Her husband was still alive and told the police she knew who was responsible and Lewis confessed a few days later.

Fuller and Shallenberger also pleaded guilty. They were given life in jail but Lewis was sentenced to death because she was the considered the "mastermind".

Lewis had begun an affair with Shallenberger, 22, and her lawyers claimed she was manipulated by him.

Before he killed himself in jail in 2006, Shallenberger wrote a letter in which he claimed full responsibility for the murder plot.

Death penalty abolitionists had championed Lewis' case, insisting she had diminished mental faculties.

Outside the prison yesterday, Jack Payden-Travers, a member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said the execution was "nothing more than a legal lynching".

Jim Rocap said : "Teresa Lewis is a poster child for why the death penalty process is broken."

McDonnell said medical and psychological reports provided no compelling reason to grant clemency to Lewis, noting she had admitted her role in the killings.


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