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SaraKay Smullens Headshot

For Shame, Governor McDonnell: The Execution of Teresa Lewis

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Governor Bob McDonnell
Patrick Henry Building
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Dear Governor McDonnell:

Millions of people all over the world were horrified as you disgraced America, not to mention the proud state of Virginia, by allowing Teresa Lewis, a mentally and emotionally limited woman, with a documented low IQ and a confirmed psychiatric diagnosis, to be killed by lethal injection at 9:15 p.m. on Thursday, September 23rd.

Teresa Lewis was the 12th woman executed in the U.S. since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. She was the first woman in the state of Virginia to be executed by lethal injection. Those present noted how fearful she was, describing her clenched jaw as she entered the death chamber, and how her feet bobbed as the lethal drugs flowed into her body. Her apologies for what she was drawn into, but surely did not have the capacity to orchestrate, were well documented. You received over 7,300 appeals for mercy for this limited and terrified woman, the first killed in your state since 1912.

Teresa Lewis has apologized again and again for her involvement, and before she died she sought emotional connection with her stepdaughter, Kathy Clifton, asking if she were there, telling her she loved her, and apologizing to her.

I have spent my entire professional life learning about why women turn to violence. The reasons are complicated, but I can assure you that in lives endured similar to the ones endured by Teresa Lewis, there is always extreme cruelty. Also, when a woman is humiliated and abused by the males around her, daughters are usually abused as well.

Yes, Teresa was involved in the murder of her husband and stepson. However, there were two triggerman in this case, and one admitted to being the mastermind of this plan. The judge refused to hear evidence showing that Teresa was retarded. But please let me assure you that a woman with these severe limitations, and one who had to have endured extreme cruelty and humiliation, could never have planned this violence. In her confused and horrified state, she had to have felt that the men she turned to had the capacity to protect her, when she was unable to protect herself. And most likely her stepdaughter as well.

Governor McDonnell, you have said that you could find "no compelling reason" to set aside the murder of this sad, 41-year-old woman, who asked only for a life in prison, where she could continue to be a model prisoner and inspire other hopeless woman with her love of Christian hymns and singing them. My response is that the reasons were there, loud and clear, before your very eyes and ears, but that you were determined to ignore them.

For shame,
SaraKay Smullens