Is Virginia's Death-Row Woman Our Sakineh Ashtiani?

Image for article titled Is Virginia's Death-Row Woman Our Sakineh Ashtiani?
Image for article titled Is Virginia's Death-Row Woman Our Sakineh Ashtiani?

For the first time in a hundred years, a woman is on death row in Virginia. Now Iran is calling the US hypocritical for its objection to the execution of Sakineh Ashtiani. Are they right?

According to the NY Daily News, Teresa Lewis was convicted of plotting to kill her husband and stepson, with the help of two men she met at Wal-Mart. The men, who actually carried out the murder, received life sentences, while Lewis got the death penalty. Appeals have centered around Lewis's IQ — at 72, it's just above the cutoff for mental retardation — and on a statement by one of her accomplices, who wrote, "Killing Julian and Charles Lewis was entirely my idea. I needed money, and Teresa was an easy target." Nonetheless, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell isn't convinced, and Lewis is scheduled to die this Thursday.

Lewis isn't the only woman on death row right now — according to the Death Penalty Information Center, there were 61 as of January 1, or a little under 2% of the total death row population. But Lewis would be the first woman to be executed in the whole country since 2005, and her sentence comes at an inopportune time, when many in the US are speaking out against Iran's execution of another woman, Sakineh Ashtiani. Hillary Clinton has asked for Ashtiani's release, and now Iran is accusing the US of hypocrisy. Says one Iranian news agency,

The US and the American media tried their best to make a symbol of human rights out of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani because of the background of their atrocities towards Iran but after seven years, human rights organisations have been silent for Teresa. This shows their double standard in relation to other counties.

On the one hand, sources in Iran exaggerate the similarity between the two cases. Some news agencies are claiming that Lewis was convicted of "having an extramarital relationship," like Ashtiani, when in fact that's not a crime in the US. However, the Iranian media and government have a point: it's hard for the US to protest other countries' execution decisions when it continues to administer the death penalty. We may think murder is a more valid reason for execution than adultery, but as long as we're killing our own citizens, it's hard for us to take the moral high ground. In fact, Lewis's gender is really immaterial here — the real question is, does our government have the right to take a life? If we answer yes (unlike, it should be noted, many other countries), we can hardly criticize Iran for doing the same.

Teresa Lewis, First Woman To Be Executed By Virginia In Nearly 100 Years, Begs Gov. For Intervention [NY Daily News]
Iran Accuses US Of Double Standards Over Woman's Execution [Guardian, via Newser]


Earlier: Iranian Mom Won't Be Stoned To Death, But Isn't Safe Yet



In general, I'm opposed to the death penalty. Maybe in extreme cases (serial killers, multiple violent rapes, really heinous things that I'd prefer not to imagine) I can understand why we have the death penalty even if I'm not sure I agree with it. But in this case, I can't even understand why it was asked for. If the person who committed the murder only got life in prison, why is she getting executed? She's got a borderline IQ, and while killing one's husband and stepson isn't a good thing, it's hardly a murder outside the realm of things people get much less extreme punishments for (unless there's more to the story that I haven't read). Is there a lawyer in the house that would like to explain why she was even sentenced like this?