On death row, killer pleads for her life

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By Maria Glod
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TROY, VA. - Washington Post Staff Writer

In a cinder block prison visiting room, the only woman on the state's death row wept for the men she helped kill. She sang a favorite gospel song, bragged about her baby grandson and fussed over her hair. She described days spent in virtual isolation, reading a worn Bible and watching reality TV.

She also pleaded for her life.

To some, Teresa Lewis is a cold and manipulative mastermind who conspired to have her husband and stepson shot so she could use the insurance money to take up with another man. Others see her as a simple - even childlike - woman with the mental capacity of a 13-year-old who was drawn into a terrible crime by a scheming lover.

If neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) intervenes, Lewis will become the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly 100 years and the 12th nationwide since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Both of her co-conspirators, the men who fired the deadly shots, received life terms. Lewis's execution is scheduled for Sept. 23.

"I didn't pull the trigger, but I did do wrong, and I let two people that I love be taken away, and I hurt other people I love very much. I really know that now," Lewis, a 41-year-old mother of two, said in a recent interview from the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

"I'm scared to death," she said. "I want to keep living. I don't want to die."

Lewis and her supporters do not argue that she should be freed. But they say evidence has emerged that she was a puppet to a much smarter conspirator. She has reinvented herself as a counselor of sorts, a calming maternal influence to fellow inmates, they say.

"She is a caring person with a deep faith who was pulled into participating in a terrible act that was completely out of character for her," said her attorney, James E. Rocap III.

But Pittsylvania County Commonwealth's Attorney David N. Grimes, who went to the Lewis house the night Julian Clifton Lewis Jr. and Charles "C.J." Lewis were slain, said the punishment is just.

"What she got was fair," Grimes said. "She knew these people loved her, and she used that to set them up. In some ways, it's worse than a stranger. It shows how cold she is."

Since she came to prison seven years ago, Lewis has lived in the segregation unit because the state has no death row for women. She isn't allowed to attend church services or go to the recreation yard and spends most of her day alone. She lies on the floor of her cell and shouts under the door to talk with other prisoners. Her longtime chaplain said that when things get tense or rowdy, Lewis sings, and it calms the women.


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