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September 14, 2010
5:31 PM

CONTACT: Amnesty International - USA

Wende Gozan Brown,

Amnesty International Urges Governor to Commute Teresa Lewis Execution

WASHINGTON - September 14 - Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today urged Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell to commute the death sentence of Teresa Lewis.  If Lewis, a mentally challenged woman who was convicted of plotting the murders of her husband and stepson, is executed on September 23, she would be the first woman killed in Virginia’s death chambers since 1912.  

“Proceeding with this execution would come dangerously close to violating the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits capital punishment for those with ‘mental retardation’ -- a precedent established thanks to Atkins v. Virginia,” wrote AIUSA Executive Director Larry Cox in a letter sent to the governor.  It is one of hundreds that Amnesty International members worldwide have flooded the governor’s office within recent weeks.

Lewis was sentenced to death while the two actual murderers, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller, received life sentences.  Psychological assessments of Lewis and an admission by Shallenberger that he was the actual mastermind behind the murders cast doubt on the prosecution’s assertion that Lewis orchestrated the crimes.  Though prosecutors claimed that Lewis “lured” Shallenberger and Fuller into helping her murder Julian and Charles Lewis, Fuller himself stated that “Ms. Lewis would do just about anything Shallenberger asked her to do,” and that “Shallenberger was definitely the one in charge of things, not Ms. Lewis.”

A professor of psychology at Duke University concluded that “when multiple sources of evidence are taken into account, it is very clear that Teresa possessed neither the verbal intelligence nor the independent initiative to frame and mastermind a plan to murder the victims.”  Although Lewis tested with an IQ of 72, the Duke professor stated that “the level of intellectual functioning of one with a 72 IQ would not be discernibly distinctive from one with a 69 IQ. Certainly, it would not be professionally reasonable to base a life or death decision on three IQ points.”  Psychologists look for signs of intellectual disability when an IQ score is below 70.

“This case highlights the arbitrary nature of capital punishment in our nation,” said Laura Moye, director of AIUSA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign.  “When the triggermen get life and a woman who seems incapable of plotting the crime gets death, something is clearly askew.  Given the capriciousness of the death penalty overall, combined with issues such as witness misidentification and shabby lawyering, it is clear that the system can never be truly just.  The only real remedy is striking this heinous punishment from the books nationwide.”

The United States has carried out 1,224 executions – 1213 men (99 percent) and 11 women – since resuming judicial killing in 1977. Virginia accounts for 107 of these executions. The last woman put to death in Virginia was Virginia Christian, who was killed in the state’s electric chair on August 11, 1912, for a murder committed when she was 17 years old. The last woman put to
death in the United States was Frances Newton in Texas in September 2005. There have been 36 executions in the United States this year, two of them in Virginia.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers who campaign for universal human rights from more than 150 countries. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.


We are people from across the world standing up for humanity and human rights. Our purpose is to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied. We investigate and expose abuses, educate and mobilize the public, and help transform societies to create a safer, more just world.

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