25 Sep 2010
The first woman executed in the United States in five years has put to death in Virginia for arranging the killings of her husband and a stepson over a $US250,000 insurance payment.
Teresa Lewis, 41, died by injection at 9:13 pm on Thursday (Friday 12.13pm AEST), authorities said.
She became the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly a century.
Supporters and relatives of the victims watched her execution at Greensville Correctional Centre in Jarratt.
Lewis enticed two men through sex, cash and a promised cut in an insurance policy to shoot her husband, Julian Clifton Lewis Jr., and his son, Charles, as they slept in October 2002.
Both triggermen were sentenced to life in prison and one committed suicide in 2006.
Granny Teresa Lewis, 41, set up her husband and stepson to be shot dead so she could claim £160,000 life insurance.
Moments before she died, her last words were to her stepdaughter Kathy Clifton. She told her: "I love you. I'm very sorry."
Lewis had lured two hitmen with sex and offers of cash to blast her victims with shotguns as they slept in 2002.
Her soldier stepson Charles, 25, had taken out life insurance, naming Lewis's husband Julian, 51 as beneficiary.
Lewis appeared fearful, her jaw clenched, as she was escorted into the death chamber.
She glanced tensely around at 14 assembled corrections officials before being bound to a gurney with heavy leather straps.
Moments before her execution, Lewis asked if her husband's daughter was near.
Kathy Clifton, Lewis' stepdaughter, was in an adjacent witness room blocked from the inmate's view by a two-way mirror.
"I want Kathy to know that I love her and I'm very sorry," Lewis said.
Then, as the drugs flowed into her body, her feet bobbed but she otherwise remained motionless.
A guard lightly tapped her on the shoulder reassuringly as she slipped into death.
More than 7300 appeals to stop the execution — the first of a woman in Virginia since 1912 — had been made to the governor in a state second only to Texas in the number of people it executes.
Texas held the most recent US execution of a woman in 2005.
Out of more than 1,200 people put to death since the US Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 have been women.
The 41-year-old woman, who defence lawyers said was borderline mentally disabled, had inspired other inmates by singing Christian hymns in prison.
Her fate also had drawn appeals from the European Union, an indignant rebuke from Iran and the disgust of thousands of people.
The Lewis execution stirred an unusual amount of attention because of her gender, claims she lacked the intelligence to mastermind the killings and the post-conviction emergence of defense evidence that one of the triggermen manipulated her.
Lewis' supporters also said she was a changed woman.
They pointed to testimonials from former prison chaplains and inmates that Lewis comforted and inspired other inmates with her faith and the hymns and country gospel tunes she sang at the Fluvanna Correctional Centre for Women where she was long held.
Hours before her execution, Lewis met with family, her spiritual adviser and supporters at the Greensville Correctional Centre.
Her spiritual adviser, the Rev. Julie Perry, stood sobbing as she later witnessed the execution, clutching a religious book.
Throughout her life, a faith in God had been a seeming constant for Lewis — whether it was the prayer with her husband or her ministry behind bars.
But by her own admission, Lewis' life has been marked by outrageous bouts of sex and betrayal even as she hewed to the trappings of Christianity.
"I was doing drugs, stealing, lying and having several affairs during my marriages," Lewis wrote in a statement that was read at a prison religious service in August. "I went to church every Sunday, Friday and revivals but guess what? I didn't open my Bible at home, only when I was at church."
Her father said she ran off to get married, then later abandoned her children and ran off with her sister's husband. Then she had an affair with her sister's fiance while at the same time having an affair with another man.
Lewis' life took a deadly turn after she married Julian, whom she met at a Danville textile factory in 2000.
Two years later, his son Charles entered the US Army Reserve. When he was called for active duty he obtained a $US250,000 life insurance policy, naming his father the beneficiary and providing temptation for Teresa Lewis.
Both men would have to die for Lewis to receive the insurance payout.
She met at a Walmart with the two men who ultimately killed Julian Lewis and his son.
Lewis began an affair with Matthew Shallenberger and later had sex with the other triggerman, Rodney Fuller.
She also arranged sex with Fuller and her daughter, who was 16, in a parking lot.
On the night before Halloween in 2002, after she prayed with her husband, Lewis got out of bed, unlocked the door to their mobile home and put the couple's pit bull in a bedroom so the animal wouldn't interfere.
Shallenberger and Fuller came in and shot both men several times with the shotguns Lewis had bought for them.
On a grassy knoll beside the correctional centre, those opposed to the execution protested with signs and banners in the twilight. Critics said they were repulsed by Virginia's killing of a woman.
"Tonight the death machine exterminated the beautiful childlike and loving spirit of Teresa Lewis," said the condemned woman's lawyer, James Rocap.
Teresa pled guilty to participating in a “murder-for-hire” in October 2002. Teresa helped the two triggermen, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller, who killed her husband and his adult son.
Shallenberger admitted later that he planned the killings so that he could obtain the money that Teresa would receive from her husband’s estate and her stepson’s life insurance. Teresa thought Shallenberger loved her and agreed to share the money in order to please him. Teresa realizes now that she took part in a terrible crime, and she feels deep remorse for the pain it caused to the relatives of the victims.
Early life and family
Teresa grew up in a poor but very strict household in Danville, Virginia. As she progressed in school, it got harder and harder for her. And while she loved her family, it was a difficult home life that she wanted to escape. At the age of 16, Teresa dropped out of school to marry and leave home. She has a daughter, Christie, and a son, Billy, from this first marriage, which lasted a few years. Christie, her daughter, recently gave birth to Teresa’s grandson. In 2000, Teresa married Julian Lewis, close to twenty years her senior, and eventually Julian bought a trailer for them to move into. In 2002, Teresa’s mother died. Teresa had helped in taking care of her mother while she was dying, and her death hit Teresa hard.
Teresa’s Role in the Killings.
In the autumn of 2002, Teresa met Matthew Shallenberger. According to Shallenberger, Teresa was “exactly what I was looking for” – someone to dupe so that he could get her money and start a drug distribution business.
Shallenberger and his trailer mate, Rodney Fuller, tried to kill Julian on his way home from work, but their first attempt failed. On the night of October 30, 2002, Shallenberger and Fuller entered the Lewis’s trailer through a backdoor that Teresa had left unlocked. Teresa knew that they would come and kill Julian and C.J. who was also there. Shallenberger shot and killed Julian in one room, while Fuller shot and killed C.J. in another. Teresa was there throughout, but she was numbed by the medications she was taking. Initially Teresa denied her role in the killings, but within a few days, she admitted to the police all that had happened.