Woman, 41, Is Executed in Virginia

24 Sep

By ANAHAD O’CONNOR

Published: September 23, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/24/us/24execute.html?_r=1&hp

A woman convicted of orchestrating a plot that led to the murders of her husband and stepson was executed in Virginia Thursday night, becoming the first woman executed in the state in almost a century.

Teresa Lewis, 41, died by lethal injection at a correctional facility in southeastern Virginia.

The woman, Teresa Lewis, 41, died by lethal injection at a correctional facility in southeastern Virginia. With a crowd of death penalty opponents protesting outside, Ms. Lewis was pronounced dead at 9:13 p.m., the Associated Press reported, citing officials at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. She was the 12th woman executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The case against Ms. Lewis, the first woman executed in the country since 2005, had drawn international attention. Many of her supporters questioned the fairness of her sentence — her co-conspirators, who fired the fatal shots, were spared capital punishment — and doubts were raised about her mental capacity. Psychologists involved in her case said she was borderline retarded. And her supporters argued that she had been manipulated by the two triggermen, who stood to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings and life insurance payoffs.

Ms. Lewis received support from an unlikely cast. The novelist John Grisham published an op-ed piece calling for leniency, and the European Union sent a letter to Robert F. McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, asking him to commute Ms. Lewis’s sentence to life because of her mental capacities. The case was also cited by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a speech to Islamic clerics during a visit to New York this week.

Shortly after her execution, a lawyer for Ms. Lewis, Jim Rocap, called her death “a tragic loss.”

“Tonight, the machinery of death in Virginia extinguished the beautiful, childlike and loving human spirit of Teresa Lewis,” he said. “Teresa asked that I send her thanks and love to all of those who have supported her in this fight for her life. In her words, ’It’s just awesome.’ It is our hope that Teresa’s death will cause a re-examination of the badly broken system of justice that could allow something as wrong and unjust as this to happen.”

For her part, Ms. Lewis did not deny her involvement in the murders, which took place in October 2002. Prosecutors said Ms. Lewis hatched the murders with two men she had been sleeping with. They said she supplied them with money to buy the murder weapons and showered them with gifts.

On the night before Halloween, they said, Ms. Lewis left the doors of her home unlocked and got into bed as her conspirators entered the home. According to the authorities, Ms. Lewis stood by as the two men opened fire: first on her stepson, Charles J. Lewis, 25, a reservist about to be deployed, and then on her husband, Julian C. Lewis Jr., 51.

Ms. Lewis eventually confessed to the crimes and led the police to the gunmen. The judge presiding over the case, Charles J. Strauss of Pittsylvania Circuit Court, sentenced the two gunmen to life in prison. But Ms. Lewis, he concluded in 2003, had been the ringleader, showing a “depravity of mind” that justified the death penalty.

Lawyers for Ms. Lewis later revealed new evidence that pointed to one of the gunmen as the plot’s mastermind, including statements that he made in a letter and to a girlfriend. Ms. Lewis’s lawyers pleaded unsuccessfully for clemency. Her final, last-ditch appeal for a stay was turned down by the Supreme Court late Tuesday.

According to SkyNews, Ms. Lewis requested a last meal of fried chicken, a slice of German chocolate cake or apple pie, and Dr. Pepper soda. According to reports from the prison, her final words were a message for her stepdaughter.

“I just want Cathy to know that I love her and I’m very sorry,” she said.

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