The first woman executed in the United States in five years was put to death in Virginia on Thursday for arranging the killings of her husband and a stepson over a $250,000 insurance payment.
Teresa Lewis, 41, died by injection at 9:13 p.m. Thursday, 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 Center 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 were sleeping in the couple’s mobile home in October 2002. Both triggermen were sentenced to life in prison and one committed suicide in 2006.
Lewis appeared tearful, her jaw clenched, as she was escorted into the death chamber. She glanced tensely around at the 14 assembled corrections officials before being bound to a gurney with heavy leather straps.
In the moments before her execution, Lewis asked if her husband’s daughter was there.
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 on her shoulder reassuringly as she slipped into death.
More than 7,300 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 U.S. execution of a woman in 2005. Out of more than 1,200 people put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 have been women.
The 41-year-old woman, who defense attorneys 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 Center for Women where she was long held.
Hours before her execution, Lewis met with family, her spiritual adviser and supporters at the Greensville Correctional Center.
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 U.S. Army Reserve. When he was called for active duty he obtained a $250,000 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.
Outside the correctional center Thursday evening, those opposed to the execution protested with signs and banners on a grassy knoll. 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 her lawyer, James Rocap.
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