Teresa Lewis, who is due to be executed tonight in Virginia, “is a poster child for why the death penalty process is broken,” contends her attorney, James Rocap of Washington, D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson, reports the National Law Journal. The Supreme Court denied Lewis a stay of execution by a 7-2 vote (Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor favored a stay, but new Justice Elena Kagan didn’t). Lewis, 41, would be the first woman put to death in nearly a century by Virginia.
Rocap had filed last-minute appeals arguing that a jury, not a judge, should have decided if she should be sentenced to death, and that her trial lawyer failed to rebut aggravating factors raised during her sentencing. Lewis pleaded guilty in 2003 to hiring two men to kill her husband and stepson for insurance money. She was sentenced to death even though she is borderline mentally retarded. The two “triggermen” got life in prison. Rocap took her case in an American Bar Association project that recruits lawyers to represent death row inmates who have no lawyer. He said, “If Ted Bundy was the worst of the worst, then she is it the opposite end of the spectrum. She is a very simple, direct person with a very deep faith. It is difficult to believe we are going to have this death machinery roll over her.”