Executing Teresa Lewis is Wrong

Barring a legal miracle Teresa Lewis will be killed by the Commonwealth of Virginia on Sept 23. She will be the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly 100 years. One of the few hopes Ms. Lewis has left is a grant of clemency by Gov. Bob McDonnell. I believe Gov. McDonnell should grant clemency.

Teresa Lewis is a bad woman. On Oct, 30, 2002 two hired killers murdered Ms. Lewis’ husband and stepson. The killers were hired by Teresa Lewis for $1,200 and a promise to split the proceeds of the stepson’s life insurance policy. The murders were premeditated, cold blooded and heinous.

Teresa Lewis is guilty. In a plot line which could have come from an episode of Law & Order the murders of Julian and CJ Lewis involved sex, drugs and the suicide of one the hit men. However, in stark contrast to a Law & Order show there has never been much doubt about what happened on that October night in 2002. Teresa Lewis hired two men to slaughter her family. A more detailed account can be found here.

I don’t want McDonnell to offer clemency because Teresa Lewis is a woman. I could care less. I don’t want her life spared because she has an IQ of 70 or because she was addicted to prescription drugs at the time of the murders. I don’t care about the new theory that one of the hit men was the real mastermind and Teresa Lewis was a patsy.

I want to see Teresa Lewis’ sentence converted to life without parole because I don’t trust the criminal justice system. I don’t trust the lawyers, I don’t trust the judges and I don’t trust the police. At least, I distrust trust enough of the lawyers, judges and police to want to stop the Commonwealth from killing people in my name. My personal disgust with the whole system was born during the first OJ trial. However, that was far from the only miscarriage of justice which ought to give everybody pause.

In 1984 Earl Washington was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Virginia. Like Teresa Lewis, Earl Washington’s “crime” was horrible – the rape and murder of a 19 year old mother of three in her home. Like Teresa Lewis, Earl Washington confessed. Like Teresa Lewis, Earl Washington had a very low IQ (in the general range of 69). Like Teresa Lewis today, Earl Washington was within 9 days of being killed by the state. However, Earl Washington did not murder Rebecca Lynn Williams. In fact, he was subsequently eliminated as a suspect in that crime. He was the mentally challenged victim of a rush to judgement which involved a series of abuses by “the system”. Once Earl Washington was exonerated by DNA testing (after 17 years on death row) the real killer was ultimately found. You can read about it here.

The simple and obvious fact is that Virginia has condemned people to die for murders they did not commit. Can there be any doubt that Virginia has also executed people for murders they did not commit?

I don’t want Teresa Lewis to get clemency because she’s not guilty. She almost certainly is guilty. I don’t want Teresa Lewis to get clemency because I am a liberal. I’m not. I want Teresa Lewis to get clemency for the most conservative of reasons – I don’t trust the justice system. And neither should Bob McDonnell.

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23 responses to “Executing Teresa Lewis is Wrong

  1. Groveton,
    With you all the way on this. Apparently the shooters got life.
    Peter Galuszka

  2. This is a pretty interesting post but I'm not sure we got all of Groveton's thinking on it because it's still conflicted.

    Oh, and I agree about the criminal justice system that clearly has put innocent people in jail and to death.

    And it's the reason why I oppose the police in their drug efforts with young people because it not only draws kids and parents into a system where they are woefully ill-equipped to deal with a system that is like an auto-crushing machine – there is no escape and you WILL be crushed – but worse than that – ordinary people that did something stupid are propelled towards "Con" school.

    But I digress… big time…

    One more example – people use photo arrays to identify "perps" which encourages witnesses to pick the perp who is "most like" what they remember rather than a match.

    The top police officials in Va have strongly recommended sequential presentation of the picture and some police have adopted it but others refuse to even though there is a substantial error rate.

    Finally – NoVa Police have a terrible reputation in responding to FOIA requests.

    you can GOOGLE this.

    But if Groveton believes this woman is guilty – then why shouldn't she be subject to the penalty – regardless of how badly our criminal justice system operates?

    Is this some sort of systematic "nullification" concept?

    Should we turn all criminals loose before the criminal justice system is untrustworthy?

    Is Groveton opposed to the death penalty?

    I note also that this country has MORE people in prison as a percentage of our population than any other country in the world save for places like North Korea and we put more people to death than any other country in the world.

    But I still congratulate Groveton for blogging on a meaty subject that …for once.. I bet does cut across partisan lines for some.

  3. I am opposed to the death penalty – for anything. Why? Because I don't trust "the system". And "the system" is the government. So, as a good right winger, I don't want anybody put to death just because "the system" (i.e. the government said so).

    My heuristic basis for this? The large number of people sent to death row by the government (i.e. the system) who were later proven innocent by people outside the system (i.e. the government).

    If you don't trust federal judges and you think the supreme court has annointed itself a legislative body – why would you trust that same system to execute a fellow citizen?

  4. Well, I sort of get your point but our admittedly-flawed system probably get it's right in 99.1% of the cases though.

    There are more than a few folks currently in prison – that we do not want running loose in society… flawed system or not.

  5. Well, I sort of get your point but our admittedly-flawed system probably get it's right in 99.1% of the cases though.


    If thats the case, we should only put them 99% to death.

  6. I don't want to see Teresa Lewis on the street. Ever. I just don't think our system is foolproof enough to administer the ultimate sanction. It certainly fell down in the Earl Washington case.

    What amazes me is the lack of consistency in conservative logic. conservatives will rail against our legal system – often with very good reason. They will pillory John Edwards as a shameless ambulance chaser – perhaps correctly so. However, when that same flawed system wants to kill a person it's suddenly A – OK.

    There are no special lawyers and judges who are brought out for capital murder trials. The same system which awarded millions to a person who spilled hot coffee on themselves is deciding whether or not to kill a person convicted of murder. Considerable evidence exists to demonstrate that the system has repeatedly failed in capital murder trials.

    If you don't trust the legal system how is it logical to give that same system authority to carry out retaliatory murder on behalf of the citizens?

    As Hydra cleverly points out … a system which is 99% right can't kill a person 99% of the way.

    I haven't even started with the Biblical argument. Bob McDonnell didn't like fornicators and homosexuals in his thesis. funny how he can disregard the rather plain language around "Thou Shall not Kill".

    Capital punishment is killing.

  7. Like I said before, I beleive that if you kill something, then you are morally obligated to eat it.

  8. I would support much stricter procedures for death penalty cases specifically in the areas we know have been abused and led to mistakes and miscarriages of justice.

    For instance, a death penalty case should REQUIRE video-tape of all interrogations.

    identifications should be done by sequential presentation of pictures or lineups.

    DNA should not only be done but it should be done twice with the second set going to a double blind testing lab.

    Only when these requirements are met – can the case allow the death penalty to be in play.

    You know.. that could be a win-win for someone like Coochi since Va has had some problems along these lines if not mistaken.

  9. Groveton, you make as good a case for abolishing the death penalty as I have seen. I like the way you turn it into a be-suspicious-of-government issue. Without question, it is horrifying to think that the state has come so close to executing innocent people. You made me waver… but in the end I'll probably revert to my pro-death penalty position.

  10. I think more than close if not mistaken.

    but I'm not buying the "be suspicious of govt because it is fundamentally evil, corrupt, incompetent, etc.

    "Govt" did not convict innocent people – other people did.

    People who likely knew that innocents had been convicted.

    Like for instance, the folks in the State Crime Lab that essentially "doctored" evidence or prosecuters who without evidence or police who badger someone until they give up and confess.

    Yes.. there are people who confessed whom DNA – CLEARED.

    Government no more screw up than private industry on a wide variety of things – for the same reason.

    People in their roles don't do their jobs or they are pressured into doing something they know is wrong but they want to keep their jobs.

    Believe it or not – that happens in govt and private industry.

    and yes.. both govt and pvt industry have been known to invoke the "death penalty" in a number of ways different from the standard criminal justice system.

    I'm not defending it – just pointing out that govt is – people and people do the deeds – in the name of govt.

  11. "Govt" did not convict innocent people – other people did.

    People who likely knew that innocents had been convicted.


    Maybe not, but government has failed to set up a credible and independent QC department to oversee police and the courts.

    You would never get on an airplane that was built by an organization without a crdible QC department that operates independently of the engineers who design the thing.

    Prosecutors get graded on sucessful prosecutions (convictions) and not on whether the prosecutions are correct.

  12. re: QC – it takes people to set up QC.

    It takes the police, the prosecuters and the General Assembly to do for the criminal justice system – what they did for air travel or lead in gasoline or seat belts.

    govt is people

  13. I don't think I am being inconsistent when i support the death penalty but do not trust the court system, primarily because I generally am distrustful of the civil side of our judicial system, whereas the criminal side I would say gets it right most of the time(psycho wuss judges letting kiddie-rapers out with a slap on the wrist not-withstanding.)

    Now, if you live in LA, Chicago or NY, who have a storied history of police corruption, I can allow you some latitude in your feelings of "the man", but I am probably being naive when I say I think most people are generally good, and would not willingly send a mentally challenged women to her death just to get promoted(ok, I just read that last part and I really am naive).

    To me it boils down to how we value life. If we are not willing to punish the worst of our criminals with the ultimate penalty, then what are we truly telling the victims or their families? "Your life is not as important as this scumbag who killed your daughter, wife, father, etc.; in fact they are more important because we are gonna keep them alive as long as we can, free of charge, er, um, sorry for your loss."

  14. Fleeceme, Interesting comment, especially this part: "It boils down to how we value life. If we are not willing to punish the worst of our criminals with the ultimate penalty, then what are we truly telling the victims or their families? "Your life is not as important as this scumbag who killed your daughter, wife, father, etc."

    Just curious: How do you apply that logic to a case in which the "victim" was, say, a drug dealer killed by a rival drug dealer? In other words, a case in which one scumbag kills another?

  15. Hmm, good point. But if I stick to my principles I would have to say that the scumbag still deserves the penalty, and not because he is a scumbag.

    To me this is the crux of the issues we have in our legal system, criminal or civil; who the perpetrator or the victim is should be irrelevant(something about equal protection under the law and justice is blind) but of course we see many inconsistencies with that in the past(drunk driving senators, murdering football players).

    Its an interesting philosophical argument, but blind justice demands all perpetrators be treated equally, regardless of who their victims are. If we, as the true enforcers of the principles of our constitution, allow ourselves to be swayed to lift the veil from justice's eyes, then we are the guilty party in the judicial system's indiscretions and inconsistencies.

  16. "blind justice" is a loaded phrase when we know that we convict and put to death – people who are innocent of their alleged crime.

    The money angle is interesting also.

    There are claims that it actually costs more to execute someone that to put them away for life.

    I also thought Virginia had a nice touch to those who were convicted of serious crimes – when the state would refuse to allow challenges on DNA and actually got rid of the DNA so it would not be available.

    that's not "blind" justice and it's not even justice…

    I note also that in NoVa – the police will not honor FOIAs – and… they brag about it.

    that's not justice either.

  17. That goes to my point of US(the people) being the caretakers of our system. Blind justice is only blind if we make it that way.

    I agree, the points you made are definitely not blind justice, but as with most things involving philosophy and principles, it is an ideal we should strive for.

    As far as the costs are concerned, it all depends on which side of the argument you fall on and which form of creative accounting you choose to practice.

    The statement that death penalty costs more than life is based on the cost of all the different trials that must be gone through(i.e. criminal, sentencing, supreme court, habeas corpus appeals) as well as the end cost of temporary incarceration and execution. The majority of capital punishment opponents do not factor all those costs into their life penalty accounting(I guess the assumption is "lifers" don't appeal their trials?).

    Conversely some proponents of the death penalty say that life without parole costs $1.2-3.6 million more than executing a criminal based on the additional appeals that a "lifer" with nothing better to do brings to court over the life of his penalty.

    I would be willing to concede a wash on the costs, neither penalty costing more than the other, but in the end the cost is irrelevant.

    If we as a state or country want to do away with the death penalty then lets do so legislatively and based off of principles, not off some fuzzy math cost/benefit analysis of one penalty over another. In my opinion, nothing devalues human life more than a discussion for or against the monetary costs of keeping them alive or killing them.

  18. In my opinion, nothing devalues human life more than a discussion for or against the monetary costs of keeping them alive or killing them.


    I've made this point before concerning environmental costs and the statistical valuue of human life: Whatever decision you make does have costs, and therefore making a decision also makes a statement about how you value life, and whose lives you value more.

    It is hypocritical (and unhelpful) to say you cannot put a price on life or the environment and then make a decsions that puts a price on it.

  19. If we are not willing to punish the worst of our criminals with the ultimate penalty, then what are we truly telling the victims or their families? "Your life is not as important as this scumbag who killed your daughter, wife, father, etc."


    If we are willing to spend billions to reduce PCBs and only millions to reduce lead, what do we tell the victims of lead poisoning vs the victims of PCB poisoning? Your life is not worth as much as theirs?

    What you are really dancing around is the value of your most basic property right.

    If I steal your husband's car, how is the government helping you if they turn around and steal my car? we would think that is silly justice.

    If I steal your husbands life, how is the government helping you if they then steal my life?

  20. Teresa Lewis has lost her appeal.

    I wonder how many other persons of modest IQ her killing will deter?

  21. well I would agree about discussions about how much it costs to execute verses imprison but I do wonder why we have more people in prison that most every other country in the world.

    On the environment – it's not so easy.

    Many environmental hazards don't necessary kill dead every human that comes in contact with it and even if it did I would be you dinner that we don't decide to continue to release than chemical because it is more valuable than the lives lost.

    we don't do that.

    but even on less deadly chemicals.. it's trying to decide things like how much is it worth – for an asthmatic child or an elderly person to be unable to go outside and enjoy the air – because it will mess them up for the rest of the day or the rest of the week or even put them in the hospital.

    How do you calculate those costs?

    because.. we do something similar that is the basic for declaring pollution restrictions that would be fine in Montana but not fine in Washington DC.

    not so easy.

  22. one thing about "stealing". You don't get to have your own definition.

    well you can… but it'll just further push you into an imaginary world and away from the real one.

    stealing has a specific legal definition though I'll admit that it is certainly not all inclusive.

    Someone stole about 1/3 of most people's pensions, eh?

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