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.

Lewis received the death penalty for plotting to have her husband and stepson killed to collect a $250,000 life insurance policy. The two triggermen received life sentences, but Lewis received a death sentence because prosecutors alleged she had orchestrated the plan. However, Lewis’s attorneys have offered evidence that one of the shooters admitted he planned the killings, showing affection and using Lewis to get to her husband’s money. He later committed suicide in prison.

Less than 1% (11 out of 1221) of the executions carried out since 1976 have been of women.

(D. Potter, “1st US execution of woman since 2005 set for Sept.,” Associated Press, July 29, 2010; see also Teresa Lewis Web site). See Women and Intellectual Disability.