Score a victory for the death penalty. Tonight, Virginia executed 41 year old Teresa Lewis, a woman with an IQ of 72. Her confederates - the two men who pulled the trigger, killing Lewis' husband and stepson - got life in prison. There were all sorts of problems with this case - most notably that the judge's principled basis for attributing superior blame to Lewis (that she was a mastermind) was quite unlikely given her IQ. Of course, when he imposed the sentence (after Lewis plead guilty and accepted a bench trial at the penalty phase), the judge didn't know details about Lewis's limitations - none of the mental health experts testified. Indeed, the defense put on minimal evidence at sentencing and the following quote suggests that the lawyer's theory was "let's see if we can score a break":
Your Honor, Mrs. Lewis's family is here. Mr., well her father and her brother and her sister, and they would all testify that they love her and they care about her, and they don't want her to die, but Your Honor, we don't see the need to call them. The Court's used to that kind of testimony and we would rest at this point.
Lawyers make strategic calls all the time. Can't blame them for that. Judges often act with less than perfect information. Can't blame them for that. Lewis didn't actually have mental retardation - she was a good two to four IQ points north of having MR. No problem there. The actual triggermen got life - but perfect equity is impossible. Both trial and initial post-conviction counsel appear to have been mediocre. But lots of attorneys are mediocre.
You can't let the drive for perfection defeat the good. If you're going to pick, pick, pick away at these cases, you'll never execute anyone. Imperfections are human and occur in even the most high stakes criminal practice. The whole process is simply an approximation of fairness and accuracy. Death penalty supporters worthy of respect are willing to open their eyes and own this reality.
These folks happen to believe that when it comes to death sentences, you make a tough decision and live with it. Or die with it, as the case may be.