US to execute mentally disabled woman
Virginia is slated to execute a borderline mentally disabled woman who pleaded guilty to masterminding the murder of her husband and stepson in 2002, Press TV reported.
Teresa Lewis was charged with hiring two men Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller to kill her husband and stepson so that she could collect USD 350,000 of life insurance.
Lewis offered herself and her 16-year-old daughter to the two hitmen and covered the payment for the purchase of the assault weapon used.
Judge Charles Strauss gave the two triggermen life sentences, but condemned 40-year-old Lewis to death. She has already lost one appeal and is set to be executed on September 23 as the first woman to be put to death in Virginia in almost a century.
New evidence, however, has raised doubts about the fairness of the verdict. Lewis took two IQ tests after the trial, both of which placed her in the "borderline intellectual functioning" zone.
Forensic psychology experts also testified that Lewis has "dependent personality disorder," and is unable to carry out functions as simple as making a grocery list by herself, the Huffington Post reported.
In 2003, Shallenberger wrote to a fellow inmate that he had manipulated Lewis so that he could use the money to start a drug business in New York City.
Shallenberger committed suicide in prison three years later and Lewis' defense team has not been able to use the letter as evidence.
Lewis' chaplain at the maximum-security prison in Virginia also describes her as "slow and overly eager to please -- an easy mark, in other words, for a con."
"She didn't look like a remorseless killer, a 'mastermind' who plotted two murders, as the judge put it," Lynn Litchfield writes in a recent Newsweek article.
"In one of our sessions, she collapsed into great soul-shattering, body-heaving sobs and cried into my wrist, the only part of me I could get through the slot in the door."
Lewis' pro bono defense lawyer said her behavior on death row has been exemplary and should be considered when her petition is reviewed for clemency.
"Since she went to prison, she has been not only a model prisoner, but she has a huge amount of remorse and has developed a prison ministry under very harsh conditions," James Rocap told the Huffington Post.
"This is one of the better examples of what is wrong with the death penalty," he added.
"Because of the death penalty in Virginia, we have a remarkable individual who did not have any violent record at all being judged on her participation in one event in one day of her life."
Rocap said he took on the case because he believes the US justice system is flawed when it comes to the death penalty.
"The legal system for the most serious sanction you can possibly have doesn't operate well," he added.
"There is so much serendipity in what happens to people who do the same thing or even worse things than other people. There's so much inconsistency in who gets executed and who doesn't. I think it's important for the legal profession that we provide the most legal representation we can for people who are in danger of losing their lives."
The United States is among the countries with the highest number of executions.
The US courts condemned 37 convicts to death in 2008 and 52 convicts in 2009, one of whom was executed by the electric chair in Virginia.
The largest mass execution in American history was in 1862 when 38 people, convicted of murder and rape during the Dakota War, were hanged.