For Immediate Release
Wende Gozan Brown,
Amnesty International Urges Governor to Commute Teresa Lewis Execution
WASHINGTON - 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
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.
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“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.
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Amnesty International is a global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people – no matter who they are or where they are. We are the world’s largest grassroots human rights organization.