For some, “finality” is the official justification for tolerating injustice in criminal convictions and sentences, but anyone’s commitment to finality is severely tested by the case of Teresa Lewis.
For some, “finality” is the official justification for tolerating injustice in criminal convictions and sentences. Once sentences are imposed, they say, we must turn our back on concerns that some sentences exact undeserved punishment on the innocent. As a society, the argument goes, we simply cannot afford to second guess ourselves, even if it means standing silently by at the execution of human life.
But anyone’s commitment to finality is severely tested by the case of Teresa Lewis, a woman with an IQ of 72 who is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on September 23 as the “mastermind” of her husband’s murder.
Newly discovered evidence that was unavailable to the sentencing judge or subsequent courts thoroughly rebuts the reasons given for imposing her death sentence and should move Virginia’s Governor Robert F. McDonnell to commute Lewis’s sentence.
Lewis was 33 years old when she met Matthew Shallenberger, a 21 year-old with an IQ of 113 who had just completed a brief stint in the U.S. Army, and his friend, Rodney Fuller, a 19 year-old high school drop-out with an IQ of 68. Shallenberger and Lewis began an affair soon thereafter. Shallenberger promised Lewis he would use the life insurance proceeds to start a new life with her, and enlisted Fuller to join him in shooting Lewis’s husband, Julian, and Julian’s adult son, C.J., in their beds.
In writings not available to the courts that sentenced Lewis to death or subsequently reviewed her case, Shallenberger explained to a friend that Teresa was “just what I was looking for: some ugly bitch who married her husband for the money and I knew I could get to fall head over heels for me.” Lewis showered him with gifts and money. She would come to his trailer in the morning and wash dishes and clean while waiting for him to wake up. Although Shallenberger told Teresa that he would use Julian’s life insurance to start a new life with her, he was actually seeing two other women at the same time and considered his involvement with Teresa “just part of what had to be done to get the money.” He boasted to friends that he planned to head to New York, meet with his “connections,” and become a “hit man” for the Mafia.
A psychologist who evaluated Shallenberger just after the murders described him as “tall and lean” with a “carefully messed-to-look-stylish quaff of hair.” The psychologist said Shallenberger was “unusually bright” and “difficult to interview,” that he “thoroughly enjoyed a verbal cat-and-mouse game . . . finding ways to answer questions by not answering them and then smiling.”
In contrast, Lewis has never lived on her own or bought more than a day’s worth of groceries. She has never balanced a checkbook. She left home at 16 to marry a man several years older than her. The couple had two children, and then divorced. Following surgeries for painful medical conditions, Teresa became addicted to prescription medications. She also was diagnosed with dependent personality disorder, which manifested itself in her need for attention, approval and validation from men.
Prosecutors agreed to a life sentence for Fuller. A judge explained that he could not “in good conscience” impose a sentence on Shallenberger that was more severe than the sentence Fuller received.
Lewis pled guilty and offered essentially no evidence on her behalf. Based on the prosecutor’s summary of events and without knowledge of the critical information about the true nature of the relationship between Shallenberger and Lewis, a judge concluded the she must be the “head of the serpent” and sentenced her to death.
Governor McDonnell is the only decision maker who can consider and act on the new information about Shallenberger’s control and manipulation over Lewis. No practical respect for “finality” should allow an execution where the very reasons given to justify the death sentence are so directly and thoroughly rebutted by new evidence.
Governor McDonnell should have intervened to commute Lewis’s sentence to life imprisonment without parole, as was imposed on the actual murderers of Julian and C.J. Lewis.
For more information about Teresa, please visit us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Friends-of-Teresa-Lewis/104370726282292, and at www.saveteresalewis.org.