Any Virginian who wants to test the strain the death penalty can endure must carefully study the case of Teresa Lewis – currently scheduled to be executed on Sept. 23. New evidence in the case directly and resoundingly rebuts the specific bases upon which the sentencing judge concluded she deserved a death sentence.
Timing and legal technicalities, however, have prevented any subsequent court from considering the new evidence. The decision whether the death sentence will, nonetheless, be carried out rests entirely with Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. Fair-minded Virginians – independent of their positions regarding the death penalty – should let the governor know that they support a decision to commute the death sentence in Teresa’s extraordinary case to life without parole.
Teresa Lewis did not actually kill anyone. She pled guilty for her role in the murders of her husband and her husband’s adult son. The two men who actually shot Mr. Lewis and his son received life sentences with the agreement of the prosecutor and the court. Based entirely on the prosecutor’s summary of the crimes, however, the sentencing judge found that Teresa was the mastermind of the killing. Without hearing from Ms. Lewis or her co-defendants, the judge concluded that Lewis lured them into her web with sex and promises of money, then devised the murderous plot.
But a letter from one of the co-defendants admits that he immediately recognized Teresa as a woman he could manipulate to do anything, that he masterminded (he actually used the very word the judge used) the murders, and that he could barely stand to be around Teresa and only “did what he had to do to get her money.” These sentiments are universally confirmed by the other co-defendant and by friends and acquaintances of the murderer.
Moreover, subsequent investigation revealed that the admitted mastermind had an IQ of 113, while Teresa and the other man had IQs of 72 and 68, respectively.
So now Virginia is preparing to carry out an execution based on false conclusions based on false evidence. The bureaucratic taking of human life is a soul-less exercise. But to do so based on lies and uninformed acceptance of lies is less than Virginians should be asked to endure. The governor should intervene to spare the Commonwealth this indignity.
Sarah Litchfield is a lay chaplain and former volunteer at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. She resides in Palmyra.