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US woman executed over murders

The first woman executed in the United States in five years was put to death in Virginia for arranging the killings of her husband and a stepson over a $250,000 (£159,337) insurance payment.

Teresa Lewis, 41, died by injection at 0113 GMT on Friday, authorities said, becoming the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly a century.

Supporters and relatives of the victims watched her execution at Greensville Correctional Centre in Jarratt.

Lewis enticed two men through sex, cash and a promised cut in an insurance policy to shoot her husband, Julian Clifton Lewis Jr, and his son, Charles, as they were sleeping in the couple's mobile home in October 2002. Both gunmen were sentenced to life in prison and one committed suicide in 2006.

Lewis appeared fearful, her jaw clenched, as she was escorted into the death chamber. She glanced tensely around at the 14 assembled corrections officials before being bound to a gurney with heavy leather straps.

In the moments before her execution, Lewis asked if her husband's daughter was there. Kathy Clifton, Lewis's stepdaughter, was in an adjacent witness room blocked from the inmate's view by a two-way mirror. "I want Kathy to know that I love her and I'm very sorry," Lewis said.

Then, as the drugs flowed into her body, her feet bobbed but she otherwise remained motionless. A guard lightly tapped on her shoulder reassuringly as she slipped into death.

More than 7,300 appeals to stop the execution - the first of a woman in Virginia since 1912 - had been made to the governor in a state second only to Texas in the number of people it executes.

Texas held the most recent US execution of a woman in 2005. Out of more than 1,200 people put to death since the US Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 have been women.

The 41-year-old, who defence attorneys said was borderline mentally disabled, had inspired other inmates by singing Christian hymns in prison. Her fate had also drawn appeals from the European Union, an indignant rebuke from Iran and the disgust of thousands of people.

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