State Killing: Almost Disabled Enough To Live

(noon – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

Virginia plans to execute Teresa Lewis on Thursday evening at 9 pm.  There’s no question she was deeply involved in two murders nine years ago, that of her husband and of her son.  But you have to ask why she’s being killed when the two men who actually fired the weapons received life sentences.  And you have to wonder what the point of killing someone with an IQ of 72 might be, even if you’re not ordinarily appalled at the prospect of lethal injection.

The crime in this case is horrendous. There’s no question that it merits at the very least long term imprisonment. The New York Times provides the following about the crime:

Ms. Lewis’s guilt is not at issue. By her own admission, she plotted with the men to shoot her husband, Julian C. Lewis Jr., 51, and his son, Charles J. Lewis, 25, a reservist about to be deployed abroad.

Ms. Lewis, then 33, met her co-defendants, Matthew J. Shallenberger, who was 21, and his trailer-mate, Rodney L. Fuller, 20, in a line at Wal-Mart and, according to court records, they quickly started meeting and hatching murder plans. She became particularly attached to Mr. Shallenberger, showering him with gifts, but she had sex with both men and also encouraged her 16-year-old daughter to have sex with Mr. Fuller, the records say.

Ms. Lewis withdrew $1,200 and gave it to the two men to buy two shotguns and another weapon. The night of the murders, she admitted, she left a trailer door unlocked. Later, she stood by as the intruders blasted the victims with repeated shotgun blasts. As her husband lay dying, court records say, she took out his wallet and split the $300 she found with Mr. Shallenberger. She waited at least 45 minutes to call 911.

Her husband was moaning “baby, baby, baby” when a sheriff’s deputy arrived and he said, “My wife knows who done this to me,” before he died, the records indicate.

After initially claiming innocence, Ms. Lewis confessed and led police to the gunmen. In 2003, she was sentenced by Judge Charles J. Strauss of Pittsylvania Circuit Court, who concluded that Ms. Lewis had directed the scheme, enticing the killers with sex and promises of money and showing the “depravity of mind” that would justify a death sentence. In separate proceedings, the same judge gave life sentences to the gunmen.

The judge who imposed the death sentence said of Lewis, “She is clearly the head of this serpent.”  But there are questions about that.  According to the Times,

Ms. Lewis’s lawyers later unearthed what they called compelling evidence that it was Mr. Shallenberger who did the enticing, including his own statements that he devised the murder plan and a prison letter to a girlfriend in which he said he “got her to fall in love with me so she would give me the insurance money.” Mr. Shallenberger killed himself in prison in 2006.

But prosecutors, in fighting subsequent appeals, said that before and after the crimes, Ms. Lewis had engaged in concerted actions to obtain money from her husband’s account and then from insurance, showing that she was far more capable than her lawyers now assert.

No evidence about Shallenberger’s role has been presented in court, but it was given to Governor McDonnell in a plea for clemency, along with details of her limited intellect, her diagnosis of “dependent personality disorder” and her addiction to pain pills.  He rejected her request for clemency stating that the appeals courts had upheld her sentence and that “no medical professional has concluded that Teresa Lewis meets the medical or statutory definition of mentally retarded.” Nice.

If Lewis’s IQ were 70 instead of 72, she would be unable to be executed under the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Atkins v. Virginia. She would be too developmentally disabled to perceive why she was being executed.

How seriously can one take the argument that the “mastermind” of a crime, “the head of this serpent” has an IQ of 72 and that’s why she should be executed even when the gunmen aren’t?

I consider the death penalty an exercise in barbarousness.  Virginia’s planned killing of Lewis exemplifies this.  There is no reason why she cannot be incarcerated for a long time.  And there is nothing to be gained from killing her that will not be accomplished by imprisonment: her execution for a 2002 crime will not deter others, particularly those with developmental disabilities, from committing murders.  Once again the state will kill in our name.  And the reason for the killing will elude us.


simulposted at The Dream Antilles and The Stars Hollow Gazette and dailyKos


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    • davidseth on September 22, 2010 at 17:40

    Thanks for reading.

  1. …. you have to show you’re tough enough.  

    • Xanthe on September 23, 2010 at 01:33

    not “for a long time.”

    Though I wasn’t at the trial – and have no sense of the actors.

  2. Doesn’t anyone concede that a person with limited development and dependency issues, could easily have been swayed in a number of ways?  No, seems they’re not interested.  Just pick the “weakest” and easy way out! It’s so much easier that way, doncha’ know?

    George W. Bush, as Governor, was well known for his “executions.”  Was he not?  I imagine they were ones of expedience, as well.

    I want to include a separate comment here (below), not to be comingled with this comment.


    The only area I have a problem with, in NOT exercising the barbaric practice, deals with a proven serial killer, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, and other cold-blooded murderers.  There was a horrific case about 10 or more years ago — I can’t think of the guy’s name.  He was fairly young, 30-ish, married and lured, I don’t know how many women into his lurid sexual passions, even two beautiful sisters — once “done,” he killed them and simply cut them up in pieces, packaged them in garbage bags, or whatever.  He did get caught and told of his behavior with absolutely NO EMOTION of his sexual adventures and their aftermaths.  Here is where I draw the line.  Is there a reason why such individuals should continue the privilege of life?  Are they rehabilitable, when having repeated so many of the same crimes over and over?  To me, that’s a fruitless question.  Should they be “preserved” by the taxpaying system?

    (P.S.  Glad to know you’re O.K., as I had read there were some areas close to yours that were really hit (unless I’m mistaken).  


  3. incompetent, and I would not support a death sentence.

    However, in my ruminations over the years concerning capital punishment, I have remained torn. If one man  killed by the state be innocent, I would rather a million killers go free. However, if the crime is horrendous and the defendant competent, with a motive, mens rea, no mitigating circumstances- and provided there is evidence that is absolutely incontrovertible– I might consider the death penalty. I’ve always hated the standard beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The one case that I am convinced deserves the death penalty, and the only one I am prepared to defend at this point in my life, is planned extermination or wholesale murder of a specific people along with (at least) beginning to carry it out. This is almost always based upon racial superiority, and I find it absolutely intolerable deserving of the penalty of death.

    However, my ideas remain unsettled and I am always open to views arguing for its total abolition.


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