Melissa Lucio, the first Mexican-born woman on death row in Texas, has lived in relative anonymity since being convicted of capital murder in 2008 in the tragic death of her young daughter. She now faces execution on April 27 for a crime that never happened. Lucio maintained his innocence for 14 years.
But Lucio is no longer anonymous. Support for her grew. At this critical moment, appeals for clemency have been made by Hollywood celebrities, five of its original jurors, 87 state lawmakers, 130 religious leaders and Pope Francis. Other supporters are 225 domestic violence/sexual assault organizations and 30 Latinx advocacy groups.
The State of Texas vs. Melissa, a 2020 documentary produced by Sabrina Van Tassell, follows Lucio’s case and exposes the racist and misogynistic injustice inflicted on him. He was selected for the Tribeca Film Festival In 2020, and won Best Documentary at the Raindance Film Festival. (It’s on Hulu.)
In 2021, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear Lucio’s appeal. In January, Harlingen District Attorney Luis Saenz set an execution date.
Innocence Project exposes the truth
The Innocence Project website lists “9 Facts You Should Know About This Innocent Woman Facing Execution”, summarized below.
Two-year-old Mariah’s death was a tragic accident, not murder. She fell down the stairs, appeared unhurt and, two days later, did not wake up. Two hours after Mariah’s death, Lucio was questioned, while in shock and pregnant with twins.
The cops scolded and intimidated her for more than five hours. After this insult and after Lucio said more than 100 times that she had not caused the death of his child, she was coerced by a Texas Ranger into what he misinterpreted as a confession at 3 a.m. morning. She just wanted the interrogation to be over. Experts have concluded that Lucio “was relentlessly pressured and manipulated extensively” during the interrogation.
Judge Catharina Hayes wrote on behalf of the seven dissenting judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit: “The state has presented no physical evidence or testimony establishing that Lucio abused Mariah or the one of his children, let alone killed Mariah.” Lucio had no history of violence.
Lucio is a survivor of lifelong sexual assault, beginning at the age of six, and domestic violence. The trial court denied any testimony about that story and how it shaped her reactions to her daughter’s death. But the Texas Ranger who coerced her incriminating statement testified for the prosecution that her behavior showed she was guilty.
Former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos was seeking re-election in 2007 and sought Lucio’s conviction for appearing tough on crime. Today, he is serving a 13-year federal prison sentence for bribery and extortion.
Lucio’s family was torn apart. Her 12 children were between the ages of 2 and 15 when she was arrested. She gave birth to twins in prison and had them adopted. The other children were separated, some sent to live with relatives, others placed in foster families.
Tivon Schardl, head of the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Defender for the Western District of Texas and one of Lucio’s attorneys, said, “Texas has torn this family apart through the cruelty and injustice of Ms. Lucia. Her children, mother and siblings were traumatized by Ms. Lucio’s arrest, prosecution and death sentence.
On April 15, Lucio’s attorneys filed a 242-page request for a writ of habeas corpus asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stay his execution and overturn his conviction and death sentence. For the first time, the courts will have the opportunity to consider new scientific and expert evidence showing that his conviction was based on unreliable, coerced confessions and false unscientific evidence that misled the jury. In error.
The lawyers’ petition details the gender bias of police investigators and prosecutors. Professor Sandra Babcock, Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide Faculty The manager and another of Lucio’s lawyers said: ‘Police targeted Melissa because she didn’t fit their image of how a grieving mother should behave.
“They used interrogation tactics that replicated the dynamics of domestic violence, which told her…to nod… [and] take responsibility for Mariah’s injuries. New linguistic analysis shows that while police treated Melissa as a suspect, they treated her partner as an innocent victim, even though he was Mariah’s caretaker and had a history of domestic violence. He is now a free man.
Lucio’s eldest son, John, and his wife Michelle, several of Lucio’s siblings, and his mother traveled across Texas, spoke at press conferences, marched, showed the documentary, testified before state lawmakers and held zoom meetings when they visited Lucio at Mountain View Jail. .
Instead of planning an Easter party with her children and grandchildren, Lucio will count the hours to see if she will live.
Information from Innocenceproject.org and deathpenaltyworldwide.org. Ask Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz to withdraw the execution date, at 956-544-0849. Call Texas Governor Greg Abbott at 512-463-2000.
Photo credit: Innocence Project