Virginia To Execute Prisoner with Diminished Capabilities

This report was posted by William Van Ornum on Tuesday but unfortunately disappeared from the site:

Employees in the prison system in Virginia are preparing the chemicals and setting up the execution chamber for a scheduled execution on[today]  Thursday, September 23, 2010. Teresa Lewis was convicted of murdering her husband and stepson, as reported in the New York Daily News on Monday, September 10, 2010. Her attorney, James Rocap, has appealed to the United States Supreme Court citing evidence that documents that Ms. Lewis has a severely diminished intellectual capability and was set up to take the blame by the two individuals who carried out the crime.

It is unclear from the published reports if the State of Virginia is utilizing commonly accepted practices of diagnosing mental retardation. Professionals in the field rely on a series of individual intelligence tests given over a period of time as well as adaptive behavior measures and utilize a “standard error of measurement” which views scores as a range, rather than a cutting score. Virginia’s regulations use a cutting score of 70 on an IQ test as the determiner of retardation, rather than commonly used practice  of utilizing more information. Ms. Lewis’s IQ is 72.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has acquired a national reputation for egregious abuses of mentally retarded individuals in the past. Governor Mark Warner on May 3, 2002 stated, “Today I offer the Commonwealth’s sincere apology for Virginia’s participation in Eugenics.” The state unveiled a historical marker to commemorate Charlottesville native Carrie Buck (1906-1983), who was the first person sterilized under this law. Later evidence showed that Buck herself as well as many other persons sterilized had no “hereditary defects.”  Warner concluded, “We must remember the Commonwealth’s past mistakes in order to prevent them from occurring.”

James Rocap, Teresa Lewis’s lawyer (himself a graduate of Notre Dame University and Georgetown Law School), asked Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell to reconsider his September 17 refusal to intervene with clemency, the Daily News reported. Rocap, in a petition obtained by the Washington Post, wrote: “Respectfully, the decision you announced on December 17, 2010 does not address any of the compelling reasons for clemency that have been advanced, including the significant new evidence that none of the courts have previously considered.”

William Van Ornum


David Cruz-Uribe
6 years 12 months ago
There are no grounds to support this execution, and as Catholics there are solid reasons for opposing it.  The Church allows the death penalty only under very narrow circumstances:

"The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor."
-Catechism, 2267

Ms. Lewis identity as the perpetrator is not in doubt, but her responsibility (in the moral sense) given evidence of significantly diminished capacity, is open to question.  Further, it is simply not credible for Virginia to claim it cannot defend its ciitzens from Ms. Lewis except by executing her.   Therefore, her execution does satisfy the criteria set forth by the Church. 

The American Bishops, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have spoken out forcefully against the death penalty, and have called for its abolition in America.  Pope John Paul said it best when he described it as "cruel and unnecssary."
6 years 12 months ago
As of now, it appears that Teresa Lewis will be executed by the State of VA as scheduled in this gross miscarriage of justice.  She has chosen her last meal and the people who are to witness her execution are all lined up and ready to watch.  I think that many of us who are parents and/or professionals who intimately know persons with developmental disabilities see this instance of injustice as a piece of a whole eugenics mindset that is growing in this country.  Just think about how Peter Singer's philosophy of utilitarianism (infanticide of defective babies) is growing. 

A bit of history is instructive.  My home state of MN had one of the best institutions for the retarded in the country.  It also had a practice of "voluntary" sterilization.  Thousands of Minnesotans were sterilized in the years from 1928 to the late 50's.  There were investigations of the practice that showed how the residents were coerced into agreeing to be sterilized.  A medical doctor, Charles Dight, was the founder of the eugenics movement in 1923.  He believed in the segregation and sterilization of the "defective"  ( the "feebleminded and insane").  The biggest adversary was the Catholic Church and also social workers and some state officials.  This doctor wrote to Hitler wishing the Nazi efforts in eugenics to be a great success.

Eerily some of the factors supporting eugenics during that period are present today.  The increasing use of sterilization was seen as connected with rising welfare caseloads during tough economic times.  While there was opposition from the Church, overall the public was INDIFFERENT!!
Jim McCrea
6 years 12 months ago
The Tea Party should be lobbying for her release.  With her diminished capacity she is a ripe candidate for their membership.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 12 months ago
This is so sad and crazy.  I don't understand how a country and a Church that goes all out for the sacredness of life can allow this happen with barely a whimper.  Yes, there are small groups that gather to publicly oppose the murder that is being done in our name, but they are rare indeed.  There's a very mixed message here.  The violence of state sponsored murder seeps deeply into our psyches.  We all have blood on our hands.  The effort to end abortion will NEVER gain any traction until we stop killing human beings in broad daylight.
David Cruz-Uribe
6 years 12 months ago
Ms. Lewis was executed last night.  May God have mercy on her soul, and mercy on us all.
Regina Sewell
6 years 11 months ago
This again begs us to ask, "What is the purpose of execution?"  Few countries other than China and Uganda (and Texas if you take their claim as a sovereign nation) execute their population at the rate that we (the U.S.) do.  If the point is deterrance/prevention, we fail dismally as the data indicate that contrary to reducing homicide in the future, executions actually increase the homicide rate.  If the point is punishment, is this who we really want to be as people who like to say we are a Christian nation?  And what's the point anyway.  Dead people, to my knowledge, neither learn from their mistakes or right their wrongs.  If the point is revenge, does that not indicate our own moral depravity more than the person who commited the original crime?  If it's protection of society, isn't this why we have jails and other institutions that wall those convicted of criminal offenses from those of us who have not been so convicted?

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