Va. woman who persuaded men to kill husband, stepson to be 1st US execution of woman since '05
RICHMOND, Va. – A Virginia woman who used sex and money to persuade two men to kill her husband and her stepson to collect a $250,000 life insurance policy was scheduled Thursday to be executed in two months, which would be the first U.S. execution of a woman in five years.
A judge set a Sept. 23 execution date for Teresa Lewis, 41, the only woman on Virginia's death row. She would be the first woman executed in the state in nearly a century.
Lewis offered herself and her 16-year-old daughter for sex to two men who committed the killings. She provided money to buy the murder weapons and stood by while they shot her husband, Julian Clifton Lewis Jr., 51, and stepson Charles J. Lewis, 25, in 2002 in Pittsylvania County in south-central Virginia.
Lewis rummaged through her husband's pockets for money while he lay dying and waited nearly an hour before calling 911.
The gunmen, Rodney Fuller and Matthew Shallenberger, were sentenced to life in prison. Shallenberger committed suicide in prison in 2006.
Lewis' daughter, Christie Lynn Bean, served five years because she knew about the plan but remained silent.
Lewis' attorney James Rocap III claims Shallenberger said about two years before his suicide that it was him, not Lewis, who planned the killings and that he was using Lewis to get to her husband's money.
"The truth about her involvement in the tragic deaths of Julian and C.J. Lewis does not require or justify her execution, especially in light of the fact that the lives of those who actually gunned down Julian and C.J. were spared," Rocap said.
Lewis would be the first woman executed in the U.S. since Frances Newton died by injection in Texas. Newton shot her husband and two young children to death to collect insurance money.
Lewis would also be the first woman executed in Virginia since 1912, when 17-year-old Virginia Christian died in the electric chair for suffocating her employer.
Women commit about 12 percent of the murders in the U.S. annually, and few ever reach the execution chamber.
Out of more than 1,200 executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 women have been executed. Of the more than 3,200 inmates on death row nationwide, 53 are women.
Women usually don't commit torture murders, they aren't serial killers and often don't have a history of other violent crimes compared with men who get sentenced to death, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. They also typically kill someone they know.
"I think it's those facts, rather than just gender that make the difference," he said.
Lewis' first attempt to kill her husband failed. The plan was for the men to kill her husband as he came home from work and make it look like a robbery, but a car was too close and foiled the plot. A few days later she found out her stepson was coming home on leave from Army National Guard duty, and they decided to wait and kill him, too, so they could get all the insurance money.
Lewis pleaded guilty to capital murder, allowing a judge to determine her sentence. Her attorneys believed she stood a better chance of getting a life prison term from the judge who had never sentenced anyone to death, than from a jury.
In a 2004 interview with The Associated Press, Lewis said she hired the hitmen to escape an abusive relationship. She said she and Shallenberger became lovers and concocted the scheme to murder her husband, who she said was an abusive alcoholic.
In a hearing before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March, Rocap argued that Lewis was too dependent on other people and prescription drugs to have plotted the murders. He said the trial lawyers' failure to raise dependency disorder and drug addiction as mitigating factors at sentencing violated Lewis' constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel.
Rocap said he would appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court and will file a clemency request with Gov. Bob McDonnell.