Virginia Set to Execute First Woman in Nearly a Century

Supreme Court denies Teresa Lewis' emergency appeal for delay.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2010— -- Teresa Lewis is expected to become the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly a century on Thursday after the Supreme Court announced it would deny her final appeal.

Before the court ruled, supporters of Lewis, who suffers from borderline mental retardation, posted a recording on the web of her singing the gospel hymn "I Need a Miracle."

As the recording plays, pictures of Lewis and her daughter flash up on the screen.

In an unsigned order this evening, the court denied an emergency application filed by Lewis' lawyers that was seeking a delay in her execution until the high court had the opportunity to review her case.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor indicated they would have granted the application.

The case has garnered national attention. The Associated Press reported today that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compared Lewis' case to that of an Iranian woman who had been sentenced to a death by stoning for adultery.

According to the AP, Ahmadinejad said in a speech to Islamic clerics in New York that while the Western press had coverd the Iranian sentencing of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani "nobody objects to the case of an American woman who is going to be exectued."

Popular novelist and lawyer John Grisham has written an op-ed for the Washington Post criticizing Virginia's implementation of the death penalty in Lewis' case.

"In this case, as in so many capital cases, the imposition of a death sentence had little to do with fairness," Grisham wrote. "Like other death sentences, it depended more upon the assignment of judge and prosecutor, the location of the crime, the quality of the defense counsel, the speed with which a co-defendant struck a deal, the quality of each side's experts and other such factors."

According to court records, in 2002, Lewis participated in a plan with two hitmen to kill her husband and stepson in order to get a life insurance payout.

Lewis stood in another room as Matthew J. Shallenberger and Rodney L. Fuller shot Julian Lewis and his son C.J., at close range.

After the hitmen fled, Lewis waited 45 minutes while her husband lay dying, before calling the police. She claimed that an unknown intruder had shot the men.

When sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene, Julian Lewis told them, "My wife knows who done this do me."

He died soon after.

Teresa Lewis eventually pled guilty to her role in the plan. In court, she apologized to the judge for her actions saying she was "truly sorry, from the bottom of my heart."

Shallenberger and Fuller were sentenced to life in prison. But the trial judge found that Lewis was the mastermind behind the crimes and sentenced her to death. The judge pointed out that after her husband was shot, Lewis went to his room and searched his pants for money.

The judge found that Lewis' conduct "fits the definition of the outrageous or wantonly vile, horrible act."

Since the sentencing, lawyers for Lewis, argued that new evidence had come to light that provided more information about Lewis' role in the crimes and that her original lawyers provided her with ineffective counsel because they didn't fully explore the ramifications of her low IQ.

Lewis was tested by a board ceritifed forensic psychiatrist who found her IQ to be in the "borderline range" of intellectual functioning, but not at the level of mental retardation.

But no court would overturn her sentence and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell also rejected her appeal for clemency.

"The evidence shows without a doubt that Teresa was being used by Shallenberger," said James E. Rocap III, a lawyer for Lewis. "Teresa has never engaged in any violent activity throughout her life, she has an exemplarary prison record, deep remorse, and we think it is simply not right for the triggerman to get life, while Teresa is facing the death penalty."