Woman first to be executed in Va. in almost 100 years

Teresa Lewis arranged to have two gunmen kill husband, stepson

September 24, 2010|By Maria Glod, The Washington Post

JARRATT, Va. — — Teresa Lewis, who plotted with a young lover to kill her husband and stepson for insurance money, became the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly 100 years Thursday night when she was killed by lethal injection.

Lewis, 41, was a mother who became a grandmother behind bars. Just before she was executed, Lewis asked whether her husband's daughter was in the death chamber. "I want you to know I love you, and I'm sorry for what I did," she said just before her death.

She was pronounced dead at 9:13 p.m.

Lewis's case generated passion and interest across the world. The European Union asked Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell to commute her sentence to life, citing her mental capacity. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cited the case at an appearance in New York.

The case began on an October night nearly eight years ago, when Lewis prayed with her husband, slipped into bed next to him in their Danville trailer and waited for her two conspirators to come inside the door she had left unlocked. The two men showed up about 3:15 a.m., opened fire, then fled.

After the shooting, Lewis waited about half an hour to call 911. Her stepson, Charles "C.J." Lewis, died quickly. But her husband, Julian Lewis, whose body was riddled with birdshot, was alive and moaning "baby, baby, baby" when police arrived.

At first, Lewis told officers the shooting was the work of an unknown intruder dressed in black. But she eventually confessed that she and her lover, Matthew Shallenberger, then 22, killed for money. She led police to Shallenberger and a second gunman and ultimately admitted her crimes in court.

Lewis is the 12th woman to be executed in the United States since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. The most recent was in Texas in 2005, when Frances Newton was killed by lethal injection for shooting her husband and two children.

Although the fight for Lewis's life did not draw nearly the attention of that surrounding Karla Faye Tucker, the pickax killer turned born-again Christian executed in 1998, more than 5,500 people signed an electronic petition asking McDonnell to spare her.

The Virginia Catholic Conference, the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and the ARC of Virginia, which advocates for people with mental disabilities, were among the groups that urged that Lewis's sentence be commuted to life in prison.

On Saturday, Lewis was moved to the Greensville Correctional Center, site of Virginia's death house. She requested her final meal: fried chicken, sweet peas with butter, German chocolate cake and Dr Pepper, corrections officials said.

Her supporters never said that Lewis was innocent or that she shouldn't be punished. But they said she did not deserve to die because she was borderline mentally retarded, with the intellectual ability of about a 13-year-old, and was manipulated by a smarter conspirator. It was wrong for her to be sentenced to death, they said, when the two men who fired the shots received life terms.

In 2003, Lewis pleaded guilty to capital murder and was sentenced to death by a judge who called her "the head of this serpent." One shooter, Rodney Fuller, made a deal with prosecutors in return for a life sentence. The judge sentenced Shallenberger to life, saying that was only fair because of Fuller's deal.

But Shallenberger, who dreamed of becoming a mob hit man, later told a former girlfriend in a letter that he had used Lewis because he wanted money to go to New York and become a drug dealer. He committed suicide in prison.

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