Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Does Teresa Lewis Deserve to Die?

FINAL UPDATE:  Teresa Lewis received an injection of lethal chemicals last night at 9 eastern in the Greenville Correctional Center in Jarrat, Virginia.  She was prounounced dead at 9:13 pm. (September 24) 

UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the final appeal made on behalf of Teresa Lewis today (Sept. 22).

by Diane Fanning

On Thursday, the State of Virginia plans to execute a woman for the first time in 98 years. In 2002, Teresa Lewis, who was married and living near Danville, Virginia, in rural Pittsylvania County, had an affair with Matthew Shallenberger. On the night of October 30, Teresa intentionally left a door unlocked when she got into bed with her husband.

Shallenberger and his partner-in-crime Rodney Fuller used that door to enter the trailer, where Teresa lived with her 51-year-old husband Julian and 25-year-old stepson Charles. Shallenberger went to one end of the home and shot the sleeping Julian in the back. At the other end of the trailer, Fuller killed Charles. The motive was $350,000 in insurance money.

After the shooting, Teresa took money from her dying husband's wallet and waited 45 minutes to call police. Despite the delay, Julian was still alive when the deputies arrived and told them, "My wife knows who done this to me." He died moments later.

Shooting men in their sleep is a horrible act. Nonetheless, I am disturbed by the imminent execution of Teresa Lewis. I am not bothered because she's female. After all, although 10 to 12 percent of all homicides are committed by women, they comprise just 2 percent of the population on death row. I believe strongly in equity in the justice system. Justice demands that there should be no gender bias just as there should be no racial bias.

There are three different issues that do trouble me:

1. Teresa Lewis didn't fight the charges; she pleaded guilty before the judge.

It seems illogical to me that someone who admitted guilt would be given a death sentence. It seems the state would want to encourage perpetrators to acknowledge their responsibility. It saves taxpayers money, it saves victims' family members from the anguish of a trial, and it settles the issue in a speedier manner. But when someone does plead guilty and still gets the maximum penalty, it discourages every other killer from making an honest plea.

2. Teresa Lewis did not pull the trigger

Fuller appeared first before the judge. He pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against his two co-conspirators. He was given a life sentence. Shallenberger decided to go to trial, but in the middle of the proceedings, he changed his plea to guilty. The same judge said that it wouldn't be fair to give Shallenberger a death sentence when the other killer received life. He gave the second trigger-man the same sentence as the first.

The same judge decided the fate of Teresa Lewis. She pleaded guilty, taking her chances with the judge. Unlike the two men, she had no criminal record, no history of violence and had cooperated with authorities. Nonetheless, the judge sent her to death row saying that she was more culpable because she was the mastermind.

But was she? Before committing suicide, Shallenberger cast doubt on her dominant role in the crime. In an editorial in the Washington Post, author John Grisham wrote that in the sworn affidavit from a private investigator, "Shallenberger described Lewis as not very bright and as someone who could easily be duped into a scheme to kill her husband and stepson for money. According to the investigator, Shallenberger said, 'From the moment I met her, I knew she was someone who could be easily manipulated. From the moment I met her I had a plan for how I could use her to get some money.'"

Shallenberger wanted cash to set up a drug distribution ring and become an accomplished hitman. In a 2003 letter, he wrote: "I met Teresa in a Walmart in Danville, Virginia. From the moment I met her I knew she was someone who could be easily manipulated. Killing Julian and Charles Lewis was entirely my idea. I needed money and Teresa was an easy target."

In a 2004 affidavit, Fuller corroborated that statement: "As between Mrs. Lewis and Shallenberger, Shallenberger was definitely the one in charge of things, not Mrs. Lewis."

3. Teresa Lewis is borderline for mental retardation

Her IQ, tested once at 73 and a second time of 70, places her just above the threshold where the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision would have prohibited her execution. Nonetheless, it is still low enough to indicate that she did not have the mental capacity to plan and execute the scheme. "She does not have the basic skills necessary to organize and lead a conspiracy to commit murder for hire," Grisham wrote.

In addition to her intellectual limitations, three different psychology experts have declared Lewis suffers from "dependent personality disorder," making it difficult for her to carry out even the simplest daily tasks without help. On top of that, Grisham added, a long list of physical ailments, enabled her to develop "an addiction to pain medications and this adversely affected her judgment."

No one is advocating for Teresa's release for prison. They are calling for the commutation of her sentence from death to life. In addition to John Grisham, her clemency plea is supported by Amnesty International, Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights and a number of Christian groups, including the one led by long-time prison chaplain the Reverend Lynn Litchfield.

Governor Bob McDonnell recently refused to give Teresa a stay of execution. All that stands between her and death is a last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court.


Leah said...

Wow. I can't imagine why the judge felt the need to sentence her to death unless it was before the other two were sentenced. Or he was misguided to believe he would actually be sending a message to the criminal public. Not all judges can reason effectively, even if we think they should be able to do so.

She definitely doesn't deserve to be released because no matter how much she lacks intellictually, she was still callous enough to help two people to be killed and for money. And there is no effective rehabilitation for low IQs. That I know of.

Anonymous said...

Countries currently using capital punishment:

PR China, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan (ROC), Tonga, United States.

Countries no longer using capital punishment:

Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, United Kingdom, Turkey, Venezuela.

I leave to your educated readers to draw their own conclusions when comparing these two lists.

Kathryn Casey said...

Great post, Diane.

Kim Cantrell said...

This is a great post, Diane. Although I admit I disagree.

I concede that she did plead guilty and, as a general rule, doing so is in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Which leaves many questions.

But on the subject of the others received life, I feel that, without Teresa, there would have been no crime. She was the orchestor. Do I think the two gunmen should have received the same penalty? Absolutely.

Teresa's low IQ doesn't equate to an inability to know right from wrong.

And for the Anonymous poster laying out the countries with death penalty vs. not, some of the countries that do are riddled with crime while several of those countries without are experiencing the same.

Bring it down to a United States level, and they claim overall that states without the death penalty have less crime. However, if you look at their rates compared before a ban compared to those states with the DP, they were lower before anyway. So you have to take a look at a state such as Texas, which you will find that the DP - and actual use of - has had a decrease in crimes that qualify for capital punishment.

So, in my opinion, the DP works - or at the very least, thins the herd of those who are a danger to society.

TigressPen said...

I think the DP works also. However, since the evidence in this case that Teresa gave led to the shooters, Teresa did all she could to help LE arrest and prosecute the shooters,the actual killers are in prison with LWOP, I do not think she should die either. (Wow that is a long sentence!)

Diane Fanning said...

Tigress Pen, I think your long sentence is the equivalent of LWOP. LOL
Leah, The judge sentenced Teresa in between the two men. When he sentenced the last guy, he said it would not be fair to give him the death penalty since the other triggerman did not get the death penalty. Why that didn't extend Teresa Lewis, I don't know.
Kim, I think I disagree with the assessment that Teresa was the mastermind. It appears from all the statements of both Shallenberger and Fuller that Shallenberger was the one who concieved, planned and carried out the murders. Yes, Teresa helped him but if Shallenberger had not found her, he would have found someone else.

obladi oblada said...

Unbeliveable. She admitted guilt, is borderline mentally handicapped, was NOT the ringleader, and one of the trigger men got life? While she gets death? That is so wrong.

I have to respectfully disagree with commenter Kim Cantrell....without Teresa, her husband and stepson would still be alive, however the real mastermind behind this was searching for a victim, and so he would have found someone else...and people would have still died with HIS actions.

Kim Cantrell said...

This is a great debate topic.

Diane and Obladi, I think we all agree that Teresa receiving the DP while the two gunmen did not is just wrong any way you look at it.

But, I wonder, if they had received the DP, would the arguement still stand that she wasn't the mastermind and therefore not as culpable?

As I was just discussing on FB, I see no one making the claim she was manipulated into an affair with Shallenberger. And, typically, when a spouse dies by murder, an affair was the first step toward this fatal conclusion.

And this time, a very young life was taken IN ADDITION.

I think what is really bothering is that Lewis DID play a role, HER husband and stepson were murdered, and now she wants her sentence commuted because the gunmen only got life. Quite frankly, I'm sure the Lewis men didn't think it was fair they were dying at the hands of anyone. So I have an issue with the "fairness" argument.

(Just a personal note: I on day 2 of quitting smoking. So my comments are not directed personally at anyone and not intended to sound so mean, but I can't pass up a good debate!)

Diane Fanning said...

Congratulations on quitting, Kim. I still think fairness and equity is an issue. It wouldn't be if the other two got the death penalty--or if Shallenberger got the death penalty. But it remains one here, IMO.
And, obviously, the judge himself took fairness into account when sentencing the second man.

Kim Cantrell said...

Thanks, Diane. And I will agree that the judge obviously has a difficult time with understanding "fairness."

Anonymous said...

I agree, Kim. But the Pros apparently portrayed her as a heartless, cold-bloodied manipulator. When she was actually manipulated by a hearltess, cold-bloodied killer. Would she have gone down the road of a criminal had these men not used her as they did? I feel yes. But I do agree she doesn't deserve DP. And she is set to die tomorrow.

But for the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to compare her case with the US outrage over them stoning a woman to death because of adultry and making it sound as the US is duplicitous infuriates me. The two cases are nothing alike. The US death penalty is more humane.


Diane Fanning said...

I know it's not very diplomatic, but I sure wish someone would tell Ahmadinejad to shut his pie hole.

Anonymous said...

First, let me say that I too wish Ahmadinejad would be quiet!
Second, I will never understand how ANYONE has the right to decide WHO dies, and then is made to turn and face others, who get to do the same thing, but without punishment. Just because people set it up, allow it, and continue to support it, doesn't make killing ANY HUMAN BEING right; in ANY situation (whether it be in or out of the "justice" system).
Third,I see more than 3 criminals in this case-add the judge and McDonnell, and you have 5 people responsible for death. Just sayin'.

assault defence said...

Great post. I think I agree with bts of what everyone has said. I think it's totally unfair that she is given the death penalty when the other two (one which actually pulled the trigger) are just sentenced to life. I think all three should be given the same sentence. I think her IQ score is pretty irrelevant as she is still a danger to others evidently, I don't think diminished responsibility should be allowed here. I think the fact that she didn't call an ambulance for so long is also quite telling. All three should receive the same punishment, whether this is life sentences or the death penalty. I agree that the gunman was looking to committ this crime but nevertheless in the end they were all planning it!

Simon said...

The eye for an eye philosophy is very childish.

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