NEW RESOURCES: “Death Penalty for Female Offenders”

A new report by Victor Streib, Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University, highlights trends in the death penalty regarding female offenders. The report shows that the death penalty in the United States is rarely imposed on women. Of the approximately 8,200 death sentences that have been imposed across the U.S. since 1973, less than 2% have been imposed on female defendants (167 out of 8,292, at the time of the report’s publication). Additionally, only 1% of executions in the modern era (since 1976) have been of women (12 out of 1232). The report also shows that over 50% of women currently on death row were convicted of killing a close family member.  Most women were convicted of killing their husbands or boyfriends, or children close to them. Finally, the study observed that the execution of women accounted for only 0.6% of all executions since the 1900s. When compared to earlier eras in American history, this data indicates that the practice of executing women is rarer than in previous centuries.  Click here for full report.

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Virginia Governor Denies Clemency to Woman with Low IQ

On September 17, Governor Robert McDonnell announced that he would not grant clemency to Teresa Lewis, who is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on September 23.  Requests for a commutation of her death sentence had come from thousands of individuals, from mental health groups, the European Union and novelist John Grisham.  Many had pointed to the fact that two co-defendants in the murders that sent Lewis to death row had received life sentences, even though they actually carried out the killings.  Information that became available after Lewis's trial showed that she has an IQ of 72, near the level of intellectual disability that would have rendered her death sentence unconstitutional.  She also suffered from a dependent personality disorder.  A letter from one of the co-defendants in prison indicated that he had manipulated Lewis into going along with the murder of her husband.  Lewis still has a petition pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, and her attorneys have indicated they will ask the governor to reconsider his decision.

(M. Glod & A. Kumar, "McDonnell won't call off execution," Washington Post, Sept. 18, 2010; DPIC sources).  See Clemency and Women. Supporters for Teresa Lewis have posted a short video about her.

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NEW VOICES: John Grisham Asks-- Why is Teresa Lewis on Death Row?

Acclaimed author John Grisham recently published an op-ed in the Washington Post questioning why Teresa Lewis is facing the death penalty when both her co-defendants, two men who actually committed the killings, were given life-without-parole sentences.  According to Grisham, the judge who sentenced Lewis to death mistakenly believed that she was the “mastermind” behind the killings. However, it has now been revealed that her IQ of 72 makes her borderline intellectually disabled, that she suffered from a dependent personality disorder and other addictions, and that she lacked the basic skills necessary to organize a conspiracy to commit murder for hire. Grisham wrote, “In this case, as in so many capital cases, the imposition of a death sentence had little do with fairness. Like other death sentences, it depended more upon the assignment of judge and prosecutor, the location of the crime, the quality of the defense counsel, the speed with which a co-defendant struck a deal, the quality of each side's experts and other such factors. In Virginia, the law is hardly consistent." Read full op-ed below.

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Death Row Chaplain is Certain: "This Woman Doesn't Deserve to Die"

Teresa Lewis is scheduled to be executed on September 23 in Virginia, the first woman to be executed in that state in a century.  But Lynn Litchfield, the former prison chaplain who came to know Lewis over six years, has said she "doesn't deserve to die."  Litchfield recently wrote in Newsweek Magazine that Lewis "has an IQ of 72" and that "one of the the two men who carried out the killings admitt[ed] that it was he, not she, who masterminded the murders" of her husband and adult stepson. Ms. Lewis has taken full responsibility for her role in the crime. The men who actually carried out the killings were given life sentences, while Lewis pleaded guilty and received a death sentence. The former chaplain's complete column in Newsweek's "My Turn" is below.

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Woman with Mental Disabilities Facing Execution in Virginia

An execution date of September 23 was recently set for Teresa Lewis, the only woman on Virginia’s death row. Although a number of other people were involved in the same crime, including the actual shooters of the two victims, Lewis was the only person sentenced to death.  She pled guilty at trial.  Since being sent to death row in 2002, Lewis has taken responsibility and apologized for her actions.  She has had an exemplary record while in prison and does not appear to be a future danger if she remained there.  Her current attorneys have pointed to her low IQ (measured as low as 72) and her vulnerability to being led by others as mitigating factors for the crime.  She has a Dependent Personality Disorder and suffered from other mental disabilities at the time of the crime.  If her execution goes through, Lewis would be the first woman to be executed in Virginia since 1912 and the first in the United States since 2005.

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Tennessee Governor Commutes Death Sentence of Gaile Owens

On July 14, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen commuted the death sentence of Gaile Owens to life in prison. Owens, who was sentenced to death in 1986 for hiring a man to kill her husband, had accepted a deal to plead guilty to the crime in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. However, the man who did the killing refused to plead guilty, and prosecutors then rescinded the deal for Owens.  Both co-defendants were sentenced to death.  In deciding to commute her sentence to life in prison, Governor Bredesen said the decision was based in part on the plea bargain that was later withdrawn and the possibility that Owens was abused by her husband. Governor Bredesen said, “Nearly all the similar cases we looked at resulted in life-in-prison sentences.” John Seigenthaler, formerly on staff at the Tennessean, said of her case, “As heinous as the crime was, the record of how Tennessee has dealt with similar cases over the last century makes it clear that her death would have been a terrible miscarriage of justice."

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FOREIGN NATIONALS: British National Faces Execution in Texas

When citizens of other countries are arrested in the U.S., special notification procedures are required under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a treaty that the U.S. has signed and ratified.  These same procedures apply to U.S. citizens arrested in other countries.  There are over 130 people on death row in the U.S. from other countries, and many of them were not afforded their notification rights under the Vienna Convention.  Linda Carty is a British national on Texas' death row from St. Kitts.  She could face execution if her request for a retrial is denied.  She currently has a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court claiming she received inadequate representation during her original trial and that the United Kingdom could have provided additional legal support if the proper procedures had been followed in her case. Carty's attorneys assert that Texas authorities neglected to inform the British Consulate that she held a UK dependent-territory passport. Carty has always maintained her innocence of the murder that placed her on death row.

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Battered Woman on Tennessee Death Row at Critical Juncture

Gaile Owens is currently on death row in Tennessee and awaiting a decision from the Tennessee Supreme Court on a request to reduce her sentence to life. Owens's attorneys have asked the state's high court to remove the death penalty because her case presents unique circumstances that warrant the rare move.  Owens may face execution soon for soliciting the 1985 murder of her husband, Ronald Owens, a man she said repeatedly abused her. Sidney Porterfield, whom she hired to kill her husband, is also currently on death row. Owens accepted an offer from the prosecutor to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but the prosecutor backed out of the agreement when Porterfield would not accept the same plea. Owens and Porterfield were tried and sentenced to death together, after a judge refused to try their cases separately. Owens is the only inmate on death row who agreed to a plea bargain for a life sentence.

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