Saturday, October 2, 2010


"Such inconsistencies mock the idea that ours is a system grounded in equality before the law."
~ John Grisham

It's a bad thing when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is right about us, isn't it? 

It's been more than a week since the state of Virginia killed Teresa Lewis. I'm still trying to comprehend how this execution moved forward, given her low intellectual functioning and the fact that there appears to have been ample evidence that she may have been led into involvement in the murder of her husband and stepson. But I guess it's more than just that. I spend time looking through the posts at and I read eloquent op-ed pieces by John Grisham and Naseem Rakha. Much as I feel for the utter wrongness of Lewis's sentence and her execution, I'm struggling on the broader scale to understand a country in which we won't use stem cells for fear of killing a patch of living cells, won't allow assisted suicide in most states, even if a person is suffering horribly from intractable pain and without any hope of recovery or long-term survival, and yet we execute people who have done wrong. Even people who might qualify as mentally retarded. Like people whose measured IQ of 72 represents a margin of error that might dip significantly below 70 and therefore violate federal law. And that's leaving aside the fact that the two men who actually did the killing were not sentenced to death.

Grisham and Rakha point out, in their op-ed pieces, different facets of what is so very wrong with the death penalty. Rakha, in her piece in the Guardian, points out not just the obvious of Lewis's questionable level of intellectual functioning, but also the fact that as a punishment itself, the death penalty has questionable accuracy or what I would suggest as justness. Since 1973, 138 individuals have been exonerated while on Death Row. That's right, found innocent of any wrongdoing.

Lewis wasn't innocent of involvement in the death of her husband and stepson. She confessed to her involvement. But, as Grisham points out, the triggerman, Matthew Shallenberger, IQ 113, and his associate Rodney Fuller, did the actual killing and were both sentenced to life in prison. Shallenberger had even changed his plea to guilty during his trial. He got life because Fuller, whose case was heard before Lewis's, had received life in prison as his sentence.

As I have written previously, there was ample evidence both that Shallenberger did the planning and that Lewis was barely capable of functioning day to day, both because of her low intellectual functioning and because of an addiction to prescription painkillers. It mattered nought to the Governor of Virginia when it came to the plea to commute her sentence to the same as that of the men who actually killed Lewis's husband and stepson: life in prison.

Teresa Lewis reportedly went placidly to her death.

I can't stop thinking about her.

I cannot understand the mindset of a country that would preserve a clump of cells but kill a woman who couldn't balance her check book or plan groceries for a week. A woman who from all accounts, from her own mother-in-law's perspective, just wasn't right in the head.

The death penalty in this country is bad enough to begin with, but when we see it applied to people who are so clearly mentally incapable of even defending themselves?

Teresa Lewis was expendable political fodder. She was good for the tough on crime stance of Virginia's Governor. That's the only way that one can justify, and I use the word with full irony, her execution, which I prefer to just call killing.

How bad is it when Ahmadinejad says we're doing wrong and is right about it?

Bad enough so that I can't get it, or Terry Lewis, out of my mind.

What do we gain from the "eye for an eye" mindset? Well, I really can't think of anything.

Except... in this instance, shame.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

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