September 16, 2010

First woman to face execution in Virginia in nearly 100 years is less culpable than courts thought and is classified as borderline retarded

Richmond, VA--The ACLU of Virginia today asked Governor Robert F. McDonnell to grant clemency to Teresa Lewis, who is scheduled to be executed next Thursday.
In a letter to the governor, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis and Women's Rights Project Director Katherine Greenier argue that Ms. Lewis should not be executed because she has an IQ of 72, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to apply the death penalty to persons classified as mentally retarded.  They also argue that Ms. Lewis, who did not commit the murders for which she received the death penalty, did not mastermind the crime, as the courts have concluded.
A striking aspect of the case is that the two individuals who actually committed the killings were given only life sentences, while Ms. Lewis was given the death penalty for masterminding the killings.  Experts have argued that Ms. Lewis is incapable of masterminding the killings, and one of the killers has stated that he, not Ms. Lewis, planned and executed the crimes.
Due to legal technicalities, however, the courts that have reviewed Ms. Lewis' case were not aware of much of the information that would have reduced Lewis's culpability in the eyes of the law.  The governor is the first person in a position to act on the disposition of Ms. Lewis's case who will have the complete information.
"The courts must have rules to operate," said Willis, "but when those rules obscure the truth and result in the execution of a mentally disabled person who neither committed the crime nor masterminded them, the governor must act to put things right.  This is the very reason that governors have the authority to grant clemency."
The ACLU is not asking the governor to release Ms. Lewis, but to reduce her sentence to life in prison.
It was a Virginia case, Atkins v. Virginia, that led the U.S. Supreme Court to ban executions of mentally disabled persons in 2002.
A copy of the ACLU letter is available online at For additional details about the case, visit the website of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty at

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director 804-644-8022