Saturday, September 11, 2010

In Virginia, a Woman on the Verge of Execution

September 10, 2010

After midnight on Oct. 30, 2002, two men crept into an unlocked trailer in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. A family of three was sleeping. Toting shotguns, the intruders roused Teresa Lewis, now 40, and told her to leave the bedroom she shared with her husband Julian. One of the men shot Julian several times. The other intruder stalked down the hall and put five bullets into Julian's son, C.J., a U.S. Army reservist. The intruders divvied up the cash in Julian's wallet and fled the trailer. About 45 minutes later, Teresa Lewis called the police to report that her husband and stepson had been killed. But when the police arrived, Julian Lewis was still alive. Among his last words was an ominous accusation: "My wife knows who done this to me."

She did. As detailed in court documents, Teresa Lewis had paid the shooters — Matthew Shallenberger, 22, and Rodney Fuller, 19 — to kill her husband and stepson. Some murders are spurred by sex and others by money; in this one it was both. After meeting the pair at a local Walmart, Lewis started an affair with Shallenberger. In return for killing Julian and C.J. Lewis, Teresa promised to split her stepson's $250,000 life-insurance policy with the two men, and she fronted $1,200 in cash to buy the guns and ammunition with which her family would be executed. In May 2003, after waiving her right to a trial, Lewis pleaded guilty to seven offenses, including two counts of murder for hire. A judge, deeming Lewis the crime's mastermind — "the head of this serpent," as he put it — sentenced her to death by lethal injection. The triggermen, who also pleaded guilty, were given life sentences.