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Death is cheapened in VA

By Michael R. Shannon
web posted September 27, 2010

Recently Teresa Lewis was Virginia's only woman on death row (although she has permanently vacated the premises by the time you read this). Lewis earned her death sentence by conspiring to murder her husband and stepson for insurance money with the help of her backwoods lover and his trusty sidekick.

It's been 98 years since a woman was executed in Virginia. Getting a hard count on the number of men sent to the higher court after 1912 is difficult because carving notches on 'Old Sparky' left something to be desired as a database. But since 1976, and the reinstitution of the death penalty, more than 100 men have been executed, compared with zero women.

Simultaneously we've had female chiefs of police, female sheriffs and female prosecutors, so women — even the ambiguous ones — are having an obvious impact on the law enforcement side of the ledger.

So what about female impact on the law–breaking side? If women are going to be taken seriously as criminals and earn the fear and anxiety that men already generate, then it's high time a woman broke the glass syringe and was executed.  

So what's with the feminists? Just when I'm ready to support their agenda, they go south on me and start bleating for clemency. And the liberal arguments for letting Lewis off the needle are so sexist and so 1950's!

She's a woman. She's subject to raging hormonal influences. She is suffering from the fantods. She couldn't resist the influence of two big, strong men. She can't stand the sight of blood. (Well, maybe not that one, since she went through her husband's pockets while he was bleeding to death.) She's a mother. She's a grandmother. She's retarded. She sings hymns. Take your pick.

Liberals, who are functionally illiterate when it comes to economics, use a version of the dismal science's "sunk costs" when evaluating the results of a murder: the victim is dead and won't be coming back, so let's focus on the killer and demonstrate how moral we are by overturning her death sentence.

These arguments for sparing the life of a murderer would be more persuasive if liberals offered to adopt the killer or otherwise demonstrate a personal commitment. Liberals, however, prefer to view the beneficiaries of their largess from a distance, so they leave the guards with prisoners who know any additional murders committed in prison are freebies and move on to their next cause.

Currently compassion tourists are highlighting the "unfairness" of Lewis' sentence since she was the only conspirator sentenced to death. As is typical in these multi–offender affairs, the youngest, Rodney Fuller, was offered and accepted a life sentence to turn on the other two.

Lewis' lawyers knew the facts looked bad and a jury might not take kindly to a woman who had forced her 16–year–old daughter to have sex with Fuller to seal the deal. They maneuvered to get her before Judge Charles Strauss who had approved Fuller's deal and had never issued a death sentence.

Lewis pled guilty, assuming she would get life.

It didn't work out that way. Viewing her as "the head of this serpent" Strauss awarded a death sentence.

Finally, Lewis' lover, Matthew Shallenberger, went to trial, but midway got cold feet and pled guilty. Judge Strauss, a simple rural jurist immune to logic, decided that since Fuller got life in prison, he owed it to Shallenberger to give him life, too.

Actually, there was no equivalence. Fuller cooperated, accepted a plea bargain and kept the deal. Shallenberger refused to cooperate and expected a jury to keep him alive.

Judge Strauss should have sentenced him to death.

Lewis and her scheming lawyers gambled and lost. Now they want a do–over. Too bad her dead husband and stepson don't qualify for one, too.

Death is the ultimate sanction for the ultimate crime. These constant efforts to overturn death sentences on the basis of social worker "evidence" and the musings of mental health professionals only serve to cheapen the murder of the victims.

The criminal justice system is a human institution subject to all the failings inherent in any human system. There is no perfect justice short of that meted out on Judgment Day. (And my pastor assures me I don't want justice then, I should hope for mercy.)

For most of us way to avoid potential "unfairness" at the hands of judges and prosecutors is both simple and obvious: don't break the law.

Oh yes, there is one added note. As a result of the Lewis case, we have learned where reporters and other social arbiters believe the open practice of Christianity is not offensive, intolerant, hateful, exclusionary or somehow upsetting to Muslims.

Unfortunately the approved location is death row. ESR

Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He's a dynamic and entertaining speaker and can be reached at michael–shannon@comcast.net.

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