Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states that the president “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
What if the president learns of a really monumental injustice in a state crime such as murder? Are state officials given the power to resist any extension of mercy by the president – to a person who is condemned to death?
In the middle of the last century, there were a number of state governments and governors who believed they had the right to enforce the (less-than-lethal) laws of racial segregation.
Since those states’ rights are now “gone with the wind,” why shouldn’t the president have the right (as well as the will) to extend mercy to 41-year-old Teresa Lewis?
The state of Virginia has scheduled the execution of this woman for Sept. 23. This will be the first female Virginia has put to death since 1912 – nearly one century ago.
Teresa Lewis was only an accessory to the murder of her late husband. Her lover, Matthew Schallenberger, used a shotgun to kill her husband. His accomplice, Rodney Fuller, shot and killed her stepson, age 25.
That she should be a party to such crimes is outrageous. But that is not anywhere nearly as bad as these men doing the actual killing. Both Schallenberger and Fuller, however, were sentenced only to life imprisonment.
The very same judge who sentenced these actual murderers to life sentenced Teresa to death!
Pittsylvania County Circuit Judge Charles Strauss called Teresa Lewis “the head of the serpent” and added: “The defendant lured two other men into this web of deceit and sex and greed and murder.”
Lawyers for Lewis have presented evidence that:
- She has an IQ of just above 70 – borderline retarded – and, as such, lacks the basic skills necessary to organize and lead a conspiracy to commit murder for hire
- She has Dependant Personality Disorder and therefore complied with the demands of those upon whom she relied, especially men
- Because of a long list of physical ailments, she had developed an addiction to pain medications, and this adversely affected her judgment
- She had not a single episode of violent behavior in the past.
Her lawyers have also argued that Schallenberger, who committed suicide behind bars in 2006, masterminded the murders. They have pointed to evidence that he had an IQ of 113 and was known to be intelligent and manipulative.
They have cited the sworn affidavit of a private investigator who interviewed Schallenberger in prison in 2004. This investigator said Schallenberger described Lewis as not very bright and as someone who could be easily duped into a scheme to kill her husband and stepson for money.
According to the investigator, Schallenberger said, “From the moment I met her, I knew she was someone who could be easily manipulated. From the moment I met her, I had a plan for how I could use her to get some money.”
Lewis’ lawyers have also cited a letter Schallenberger sent to a girlfriend shortly after he was sentenced in which he wrote, “I figured, why go to New York for $20,000 a hit when I could do just one and make $350,000 off of it?”
In the same letter he said of Lewis: “She was exactly what I was looking for.”
In addition, they have cited a 2004 affidavit by Schallenberger’s fellow assassin, Fuller, who said this: “As between Mrs. Lewis and Schallenberger, Schallenberger was definitely the one in charge of things, not Mrs. Lewis.”
Lewis has appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but her chances do not look good. Her lawyers have also filed a petition for executive clemency with Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office.
When at a White House daily news briefing on Sept. 15, I asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about this case, which had been featured on Page 1 of the Washington Post. Gibbs replied that he was “not legally familiar with the details of the case. I assume that she is not sentenced under federal law but is sentenced under Virginia law, and I think that is a clemency process that goes through the governor’s office.”
I asked, “Will the president extend mercy to this woman?”
Gibbs replied, “Again, I think this is a process that the Virginia legal process will have to play out.”
My efforts to try to evoke any expression of mercy from Gibbs or protest of this injustice from President Obama failed.
On Friday evening, Virginia’s Gov. McDonnell announced that since no medical professional has concluded that she is mentally retarded under Virginia law, “I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the circuit court.”