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JARRATT, Va. (AP) — Teresa Lewis spent the last days before her execution as she had spent one side of her life — singing hymns and praying. That devotion to Christianity, by her own admission, was countered by outrageous bouts of sex and betrayal.
That dark side led her life to a deadly turn in 2002 when she plied two men with sex and cash to kill her husband and stepson to collect on a $250,000 insurance policy. For that, the 41-year-old on Thursday was the first woman put to death in the U.S. since 2005 — and just the 11th since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 — in a case that generated international appeals and rebukes.
Lewis died by injection at 9:13 p.m., apologizing first to the sole surviving daughter of the husband she had killed. She was the first woman in Virginia since 1912 put to death. Her supporters and relatives of the victims watched her execution at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt.
“She was very peaceful,” before she entered the death chamber, said her attorney, James Rocap III.
“We thought that we were supposed to be helping her, while she was actually helping us,” he said about the days leading to her death during which she laughed, sang and prayed — for everybody.
Lewis promised the killers a cut of a life insurance policy to shoot her husband, Julian Clifton Lewis Jr., and his son, Charles, as they slept in October 2002. Both triggermen were sentenced to life in prison and one committed suicide in 2006.
Lewis appeared fearful, her jaw clenched, as she was escorted into the death chamber. She glanced tensely around at 14 assembled corrections officials before being bound to a gurney with heavy leather straps.
Moments before her execution, Lewis asked if her husband’s daughter — her stepdaughter — was near. She was. Kathy Clifton was in an adjacent witness room blocked from the inmate’s view by a two-way mirror.
“I want Kathy to know that I love her and I’m very sorry,” Lewis said.
Then, as the drugs flowed into her body, her feet bobbed but she otherwise remained motionless. A guard lightly tapped her on the shoulder reassuringly as she slipped into death.
More than 7,300 appeals to stop the execution had been made to the governor in a state second only to Texas in the number of people it executes.
Texas held the most recent U.S. execution of a woman in 2005. Out of more than 1,200 people put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 have been women.
Lewis, who defense attorneys said was borderline mentally disabled, had inspired other inmates by singing Christian hymns in prison. Her fate also had drawn appeals from the European Union, an indignant rebuke from Iran and the disgust of thousands of people.
The execution stirred an unusual amount of attention because of her gender, claims she lacked the intelligence to mastermind the killings and the post-conviction emergence of defense evidence that one of the triggermen manipulated her. Her spiritual adviser, the Rev. Julie Perry, stood sobbing as she later witnessed the execution, clutching a religious book.