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In Virginia, she’s not retarded

by Brian Clarey

Virginia, our neighbor to the north and one of those “mountains of conceit” to which the old-timers around here are constantly referring, has a historic execution planned for this week — Thursday, to be exact. This comes from right outside Danville, about an hour’s drive from the Triad.

It is historic not because it’s a rarity; Virginia has executed more than 100 people since 1976. And the fact that the victim is a woman — 40-year-old Teresa Lewis — holds no special cachet, though women are executed for their crimes far less often than their male counterparts; the last time a woman was killed by the state in the US was 2005. It is noteworthy that Virginia has not executed a woman since 1912, when 17-year-old maid Virginia Christian was put to the electric chair when she murdered her employer during a fistfight.

This is not one of those cases where there is any possibility that the person set for execution is not guilty. Lewis engaged in a coldblooded plot to have her husband and his son, her stepson, murdered for a quarter-million dollars in life insurance payouts. She hired two men for the job, procured guns for them and even offered the sexual favors of her 16-year-old daughter.

Her crime is a heinous one, in every measurable way. But there is a factor that mitigates the situation: Lewis has a tested IQ score of about 70, making her “dull” in the clinical sense of the word, and possibly retarded.

Certainly she is no criminal mastermind. According to published news stories, Lewis met the gunmen — Matthew Shallenberger, 22, and Rodney Fuller, 19 — at Wal-Mart and quickly engaged in a sexual affair with Shallenberger. She fronted the men $1,200 for guns and bullets. She was addicted to painkillers. She waited nearly an hour to report the murders to police, and on the same day started the process for recouping the life insurance settlement and her husband’s last paycheck.

Still, the trial judge declared her the “head of this serpent” before sentencing her to lethal injection. Since then, Shallenberg admitted in a letter that he was the brains of the outfit before committing suicide in prison in 2006.

It is illegal in the US, under the 8 th Amendment, to inflict cruel and unusual punishment on our citizens, which the Supreme Court reasoned in 2002 to mean that we cannot execute the mentally handicapped. Oddly enough, the landmark case also happened in Virginia, where there was no prior law against giving lethal injections to the mentally challenged.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has denied a stay of execution, saying that Lewis is not retarded by his state’s standards.

And so the clock ticks down for Lewis, who may or may not fully realize the things she put into motion that day at Wal-Mart. And yet another murder — this one of a woman with an IQ of 70 — will be carried out in the name of the people.

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