Blog of Rights

Act Now to Save a Virginia Woman on Death Row

By Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project at 4:12pm

Teresa Lewis has an IQ of 72. In 2003, she pled guilty to two counts of murder in Virginia. The victims were her husband and his adult son. Immediately after the crime, she told police that another man, Matthew Shallenberger, masterminded the killings by seducing Teresa and convincing her that he should kill her husband so that Teresa could collect life insurance money they could use to “run away” together. Owing to her low intelligence and dependent personality disorder, Teresa was easily manipulated and agreed to the plan. Shallenberger, who was seeing two other women at the time, would later admit that Teresa was exactly what he was looking for and that he seduced her for the life insurance money. Shallenberger had hoped to use the money to fulfill his dream of moving to New York to become a hit man for the mob. Despite his dominant role in the crime and Teresa’s more limited role, Shallenberger received a sentence of life in prison, while Teresa was sentenced to death.

Teresa is not one of the worst of the worst. She has expressed sincere remorse for her crime and has spent her time in prison as a model inmate, whom a prison chaplain has described as “loving, faithful, and childlike.” Virginia, however, has scheduled Teresa’s execution for September 23, 2010.

Unless spared by Virginia’s governor, Teresa would be the first woman executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1912. Please support Teresa’s plea for Gov. Bob McDonnell to spare her life by signing this petition, visiting Teresa’s website and visiting her Facebook page.

The fact that someone like Teresa can be executed, while her more culpable codefendant has received a life sentence, illustrates why the death penalty is wrong: its use is not limited for people who are the worst of the worst.

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