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Stay Denied in Teresa Lewis Execution

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By Laura Strachan, Esq. on September 23, 2010 3:12 PM

The Teresa Lewis execution may have exhausted its final avenue for appeal. 41 year-old Teresa Lewis was found guilty of killing her husband and stepson in 2002. The Virginia native has been appealing her death row sentence ever since. Her two co-conspirators were both given life in prison without parole. The Supreme Court has now denied her final stay of execution appeal. Lewis is scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday evening.

CNN quotes Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who also denied a clemency request from Lewis:

"Having carefully reviewed the petition for clemency, the judicial opinions in this case, and other relevant materials, I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court and affirmed by all reviewing courts. Accordingly, I decline to intervene and have notified the appropriate counsel and family of my decision."

Teresa Lewis is also quoted in CNN: "I just want the governor to know that I am so sorry, deeply from my heart. And if I could take it back, I would, in a minute." With her pending execution, Lewis will be the first U.S. female executed since 2005, and the first Virginia woman since 1912. Lewis argues that her low IQ makes her mentally incapable of appreciating her crime.

Already convicted of the crimes, in order for Lewis to be sparred based on her mental incapacity, she would need to show that she is both unaware of the punishment she is about to suffer, and does not understand why she is going to be executed. These were the questions that the Supreme Court, and the Virginia Governor, looked at in denying a stay or clemency in Teresa Lewis execution.

It is a violation of the eighth amendment (prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment") to execute persons suffering from mental retardation. Each state defines what constitutes mental retardation differently, and the determination usually involves a lengthy war of mental health experts on each side. In Teresa Lewis's case, her low IQ did not fall under Virginia's definition of mental retardation, making it constitutionally acceptable to continue with the execution. Along with Texas, Virginia leads the county in executions since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on the death penalty in 1976.

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