Teresa Wilson grew up in poverty in Danville, Virginia, where her parents both worked in a textile mill. Teresa sang in a church during her youth. At 16, she dropped out of school and married a man she met at that church. The couple had one daughter, Christie Lynn Bean, but the marriage soon ended in divorce, after which Teresa turned to alcohol and painkillers. Her mother-in-law, Marie Bean, described Teresa as “not right”. After migrating between dozens of low-paying jobs, Teresa Wilson Bean eventually found work in the spring of 2000 at the Dan River textile mill, where her supervisor was Julian Clifton Lewis, Jr. He was a recent widower with three children, Jason, Charles, and Kathy. Teresa moved into Julian’s home in June 2000 and the two married soon after. In December 2001, Julian’s older son, Jason Clifton Lewis, was killed in a car accident, leaving his father $200,000 from a life insurance policy. Julian used the money to buy a manufactured home on five acres of land in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. In August 2002, Julian’s younger son, Charles J. Lewis, obtained a $250,000 insurance policy in preparation for his impending deployment to Iraq as part of the United States Army Reserve. Charles designated his father as the primary, and Teresa Lewis as the secondary beneficiaries.
In the fall of 2002, Teresa Lewis met 21-year-old Matthew Jessee Shallenberger and 19-year-old Rodney Lamont Fuller at a Wal-Mart in Danville and began a sexual relationship with both of them. In October 2002, Charles came home on a visit from Army training in Maryland. On October 23, Shallenberger and Lamont were given $1,200 by Lewis to purchase firearms and ammunition to kill Julian Lewis and his son Charles for the insurance money. Their first attempt to kill Julian while on the road did not succeed. A week later, on the night of October 30, Shallenberger and Lamont entered the Lewis’ trailer through a back door that Teresa had left open. While she waited in the kitchen, Shallenberger shot the sleeping Julian several times, while Fuller shot Charles in his bedroom with a shotgun. After discovering Charles was not dead, Fuller shot him twice more. Teresa waited 45 minutes before calling for help, and while waiting for the police to arrive, she removed money from her dying husband’s wallet. She divided $300 with Shallenberger and Fuller before they left. However, sheriff’s deputies arrived prior to Julian expiring, and heard him say, “My wife knows who done this to me,” while she had claimed the two had been killed by unidentified assailants in a home invasion.
Shortly after, Teresa Lewis was caught attempting to withdraw $50,000 from her dead husband’s account with a forged check. Within a week, she confessed to law enforcement officers that she had offered money to have her husband killed. During the investigation, prosecutors found that Lewis had been trying to gather the assets of her late husband and stepson even before they had been buried.
During the murder trial, the judge deemed Lewis the mastermind of the crime and called her “the head of this serpent.” Barbara G. Haskins, a court appointed, board-certified forensic psychiatrist, stated that “Cognitive testing showed a Full Scale IQ of 72. Verbal IQ was 70, and Performance IQ was 79.” Dr. Haskins also stated that Teresa Lewis was and is able to make a plea agreement and enter pleas. Lewis’ lawyer stated that “She’s not mentally retarded, but she is very, very close to it.”
Defense attorneys thought the evidence against Lewis was overwhelming and advised her to plead guilty to the capital charges in order to avoid a jury, and hope that the judge would show some leniency since Lewis had been cooperating with investigators. However, she was sentenced to death, since under Virginia law, multiple murders within a three-year period are subject to the death penalty. The two co-conspirators who actually did the shooting, Shallenberger and Fuller, were sentenced to life imprisonment at separate trials. Lewis was granted an automatic review by the Supreme Court of Virginia, which rejected the argument that it was unfair to execute Lewis while the co-conspirators got life sentences, as well as rejecting Lewis’ challenges to the constitutionality of Virginia’s death penalty law. Lewis was placed on death row at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia. Lewis’ daughter, Christie Lynn Bean, served five years because she knew about the plan but failed to report it. In November 2004, a private investigator met Shallenberger at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, Virginia on behalf of Lewis. Shallenberger wrote in a partially transcribed affidavit: “Teresa was in love with me. She was very eager to please me. She was also not very smart.” However, Shallenberger tore off and ate the parts of the document that he had signed. Shallenberger said, “What will happen will happen.” Shallenberger committed suicide at the prison in 2006.
Over 7,300 appeals for clemency were reportedly sent to Virginia governor Bob McDonnell. Her supporters stated that “Lewis is deeply remorseful and has been a model prisoner, helping fellow female inmates cope with their circumstances.” Her father, Melvin C. Wilson, Sr., testified how Lewis took care of her invalid mother prior to her death. Lewis herself stated that “I just want the governor to know that I am so sorry, deeply from my heart. And if I could take it back, I would, in a minute … I just wish I could take it back. And I’m sorry for all the people that I’ve hurt in the process.” On September 17, 2010, McDonnell decided not to stop Lewis’ upcoming execution, stating: “Having carefully reviewed the petition for clemency, the judicial opinions in this case, and other relevant materials, I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court and affirmed by all reviewing courts.” Her attorneys filed motions for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution, but were denied on September 21, 2010. Dissenting Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor indicated that they would have granted a stay.
Lewis’ last meal consisted of two fried chicken breasts, sweet peas with butter, a Dr Pepper and German chocolate cake for dessert. Lewis addressed stepdaughter Kathy Lewis Clifton, who came to witness her execution, to apologize for killing her brother and father. Lewis was executed on September 23, 2010, at 9 p.m. by lethal injection, at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. This made her the 12th woman to be executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Lewis was the first woman to be executed in Virginia by lethal injection; the last woman to be executed in the state was Virginia Christian, who died in the electric chair in 1912. Lewis was also the first woman to be executed in the U.S. since Frances Newton in 2005 in the state of Texas, and the second woman to be executed since serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2002 in the state of Florida.
- April, 26, 1969
- Danville, Virginia
- September, 23, 2010
- Greensville Correctional Center Jarratt, Virginia
Cause of Death
- execution by lethal injection