New Intern Catching On, Seeing Disparities

While being the new person is never easy, I can thankfully report that my first three weeks as Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty’s Young Adult Volunteer have proven to be a success. My name is Victor Short and I recently moved to Nashville from Denver, CO, to serve as a Presbyterian Church (USA) Young Adult Volunteer. Having just graduated from Hastings College, I will be spending a year in Nashville working with TADP and could not be more excited for this opportunity.

With this excitement comes the sobering realization that there is a great deal of work to be done around this issue. Disparities and inconsistencies exist throughout Tennessee and the country. Once such inconsistency is the unequal treatment of two women recently scheduled to be executed for the murders of their respective husbands.  As many Tennesseans know, Governor Phil Bredesen recently commuted the death sentence of Tennessee death row inmate, Gaile Owens, to life. Owens was scheduled to be executed on September 28.  

However, Teresa Lewis, convicted of plotting to murder her husband and stepson, is scheduled to be executed tomorrow in Virginia.  Unlike Governor Bredesen, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell refused Teresa’s lawyers’ plea for clemency even after evidence revealed that Teresa Lewis has an I.Q. of 72, suffers from a psychological dependency disorder, and had an addiction to prescription pain medication at the time of the crime. Despite her extremely low I.Q., Virginia is still allowed to execute her because the threshold for exclusion from the death penalty for intellectual disability is 70.

As someone who has followed the death penalty for a number of years, I cannot help but be struck by the capricious nature of these two outcomes. Considering the mental capacity of Teresa Lewis and the circumstances of her arrest and conviction, I would argue that Teresa’s case has at least as many mitigating factors at play as did the Owens’ case.  And yet, what remains consistent is the continued arbitrariness of  death penalty in our country. Certainly, in neither the Owens nor the Lewis case are we dealing with the worst of the worst.  Isn’t that supposedly who the death penalty is reserved for?  Unfortunately, even as a new intern, it hasn’t taken me long to find out that the death penalty is often reserved not for the worst of the worst, but for the least of the least.               

To act to stop the impending execution of Teresa Lewis, click here.

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