Sep 21, 2010

Pittsylvania woman to be executed



On Sept. 23, the commonwealth of Virginia is set to execute its first female inmate in nearly 100 years.  Teresa Lewis, a Pittsylvania County native, was convicted by Circuit Court Judge Charles Strauss in 2003 for orchestrating the slaying of her husband and stepson in an attempt to collect $350,000 in life insurance.  Lewis hired two hit men, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller, whom she met at a local Wal-Mart, to carry out her plan.  On Oct. 30, 2002, Lewis allowed the two gunmen to enter her home and then stood by while they killed her family with a shotgun.  

However, a stay of the execution may occur.  

Lewis’s attorneys have attempted to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court after Gov. Bob McDonnell denied their clemency petition Friday, Sept. 17.  Her lawyers claim that Lewis may have been manipulated into the act, based on her history of mental disabilities and prescription drug abuse. They have also referenced Shallenberger and Fuller’s more lenient life imprisonment sentences.  

Virginia authorities should ignore the defense’s suspicious 11th-hour pleas and proceed with Lewis’s execution.

If the defense is successful in its appeal via the mental instability argument and alter Lewis’s sentence to one of life without parole, it will have unknowingly degraded Lewis as an individual, according to German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s degradation theory. 

Kant’s proposal, known as the categorical imperative, states that morality is a universal standard which encompasses all members of society and to which are all bound. 

Kant also stresses that everyone is an autonomous moral agent, capable of upholding or breaking general law.  As such, every person, including felons, possesses self-worth.  In cases of crime, society is compelled to impose a penalty against the perpetrator to mend the social fabric that has been broken.  This ruling must correspond to the severity of the offense, upholding the famous maxim, “the punishment must fit the crime.”  An equal punishment to the transgression is warranted because justice demands equal accountability.  Any lesser judgment, for the purpose of rehabilitation or the utilitarian idea of the “general good” fails to acknowledge the individual’s status as a member of the moral community. 

“We must punish because we value one another and society, because we respect the inherent dignity in each of us and wish to reaffirm those values on which our lives and society ... ought to be based. Punishment is one way we reproduce what makes life worth living — it is a tribute to life,” author Jacob M. Held wrote.  

Kant’s ideas complement the Bible.  God endowed humans with a conscience and free will.  This liberty also comes with the burden of responsibility.  When one person takes the life of another, they are destroying the Lord’s creation, and retribution is required.  God expressly permits governments to use lethal force to dispense of wrongdoers.

 “And from each man I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.  Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed. For in the image of God has God made man,” according to Genesis 9:4-6.

In Lewis’s case, even if she does suffer from mental disabilities, these ailments in no way affect her comprehension of ethics.  If Shallenberger and Fuller did manipulate Lewis as the defense claims, she would have still been aware of the immoral nature of the proposed act, as well as the consequences.  

“Even though I didn’t pull the trigger, I deserve punishment for what I have done,” Lewis said in a recent interview at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.  

The taking of another human life is never a task that should be addressed lightly.  However, though it may seem harsh, all unlawful actions have penalties, and capital punishment is an acceptable response to homicide.  It ultimately acknowledges the worth of the murderer, and maintains the proper principles for all humanity. 


FLYNN is an opinion writer.

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