US state set to execute woman

The US state of Virginia is today due to carry out its first execution of a woman in nearly a century amid appeals from the European Union and repercussions that reached as far away as Iran.

Teresa Lewis, 41, is scheduled to die by injection at Greensville Correctional Centre in Jarratt for the hired killings of her husband and stepson in October 2002.

To procure the hit men, prosecutors said, she used sex, cash and a promised cut of the insurance benefits the killings would bring her.

The US Supreme Court and Governor Bob McDonnell have declined to intervene, and all her legal appeals have been exhausted, Lewis's attorney said.

In a state with the second busiest death chamber in the US, the case has 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 defence evidence that one of the killers manipulated her.

Lewis's supporters say she is a changed woman, and point 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 Fluvanna Correctional Centre for Women.

In a letter this month to Mr McDonnell, the European Union asked the governor to commute her sentence to life, citing Lewis's mental capacity. She has admitted her role in the killings, but her lawyers have said testing shows she has a low IQ bordering mental disability.

The European Union's ambassador to the US wrote that the EU "considers that the execution of people with mental disorders of all types is contrary to minimum standards of human rights".

Earlier this week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Western media of having a double standard in reporting on the Lewis execution.

He compared coverage of the Lewis case to the "heavy propaganda" campaign against the case of an Iranian woman who had been sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery.

"Meanwhile, nobody objects to the case of an American woman who is going to be executed," he was quoted as saying during a speech on Monday to Islamic clerics and other figures in New York.

Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Centre agreed that the death penalty is a human rights issue, but said the Iranian leader is "the wrong messenger".

"The US is, of course, interested in human rights abuses," he said.

Mr McDonnell said he had thoroughly reviewed court records and medical and psychological reports and found no compelling reason to grant clemency to Lewis.

Lewis met Rodney Fuller and Matthew Shallenberger in a Wal-Mart store in Pittsylvania County and traded sex and money for weapons for the hired killing of her husband, Julian Clifton Lewis Jr. His son, Julian Lewis, entered the US Army Reserve and had a $250,000 (€187,414) life insurance policy, naming his father as beneficiary.

Both men would have to die for Lewis to collect.

On the night before Halloween in 2002, Shallenberger and Fuller came in and shot both men several times with shotguns.

Lewis's attorneys note that Shallenberger later claimed he was the mastermind and duped Lewis to get some of the insurance money. Shallenberger committed suicide in prison in 2006. He and Fuller were sentenced to life for the killings.

Lewis's execution would be the first of a woman in Virginia since 1912. Texas held the most recent US execution of a woman in 2005.

Out of more than 1,200 people put to death since the US Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 have been women.

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