Lawyers hope new evidence could stop the execution of the woman in Texas

HUSTON – During hours of relentless interrogation, Melissa Lucio more than 100 times denied fatally beating her 2-year-old daughter.

But exhausted by lifelong abuse and grief over the loss of her daughter Mariah, her lawyers say, the Texas woman has finally agreed to investigators. “I guess I did,” Lucio said when asked if she was responsible for some of Mariah’s injuries.

Her lawyers say the statement was misinterpreted by prosecutors as a confession to murder – tarnishing the rest of the investigation into Maria’s death in 2007, with evidence gathered only to prove that conclusion, and helping to sentence her to death. murder. They claim that Mariah died from injuries from falling down 14 steps on a steep staircase in front of the family’s apartment in the city of Harlingen in South Texas.

As the date of her execution on April 27 approaches, Lucio’s lawyers hope the new evidence, along with growing public support – including jurors who now doubt the verdict – and more than half of the Texas House of Representatives – will persuade the State Pardon and Parole Board and Gov. Greg Abbott to postpone execution or commute her sentence.


“Mariah’s death was a tragedy, not a murder. … It would be an absolutely devastating message for this execution to move forward. That would send a message that innocence doesn’t matter, “said Vanessa Potkin, one of Lucio’s lawyers involved in the Innocence project.

Lucio’s lawyers say jurors have never heard forensic evidence to explain that Mariah’s various injuries were actually caused by a fall days earlier. They also say Lucio was not allowed to present evidence questioning the validity of her confession.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office maintains evidence that Mariah suffered the “absolutely worst” case of child abuse that her emergency room doctor has seen in 30 years.

“Lucio has not yet presented evidence that is credible and supports her acquittal,” the court wrote in court documents last month.

The Cameron County Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Lucio, declined to comment.


Lucio, 53, will be the first Latin American woman executed in Texas and the first woman since 2014. Only 17 women have been executed in the United States since the Supreme Court overturned its death ban in 1976, most recently in January 2021.

In their pardon petition, Lucio’s lawyers say that while she used drugs, which caused her to temporarily lose custody of her children, she was a loving mother who worked to stay drug-free and provide for her family. Lucio has 14 children and was pregnant with the youngest two when Mariah died.

Lucio and her children struggled through poverty. Sometimes they were homeless and relied on food banks, according to the petition. The Child Protection Service is present in the family’s life, but has never been accused of abusing any of its children, Potkin said.


Lucio has been sexually assaulted many times since he was 6 years old, and has been physically and emotionally abused by two husbands. Her lawyers say this lifelong trauma has made her susceptible to false confessions.

In the 2020 documentary Texas v. Melissa, Lucio said investigators continued to urge her to say she hurt Maria.

“I would not admit that I caused her death because I am not guilty,” Lucio said.

Her lawyers say Lucio’s sentence is disproportionate to what her husband and Mariah’s father, Robert Alvarez, received. He received a four-year sentence for injuring a child through inaction, although he is also responsible for caring for Mariah, Lucio’s lawyers say.

In 2019, a three-member panel of the 5th U.S. District Court of Appeals overturned Lucio’s sentence, ruling that she had been deprived of “her constitutional right to provide meaningful protection.” However, the full court in 2021 said the verdict should be upheld for procedural reasons, “despite the difficult issue of excluding testimony, which could call into question the veracity of Lucio’s confession.”


Three jurors and a deputy in Lucio’s trial have signed affidavits expressing doubts about her sentence.

“She was not evil. She was just struggling. …

In a letter to the Pardon and Parole Board last month and to Abbott, 83 Texas House members said Lucio’s execution would be a “miscarriage of justice.”

“Like the conservative Republican himself, who has long supported the death penalty in the most heinous cases … I have never seen a more alarming case than the case of Melissa Lucio,” said State Secretary Jeff Leach, who signed the letter.

Abbott can provide a one-time 30-day grace period. He can grant pardon if the majority of the parole board recommends it.

The board plans to vote on Lucio’s pardon petition two days before the scheduled execution, Rachel Alderete, the board’s director of maintenance, said in an email. A spokeswoman for Abbott’s office did not return an email requesting comment.


The abbot has pardoned only one death row inmate, Thomas Whitaker, since taking office in 2015. Whitaker was convicted of organizing the fatal shootings of his mother and brother. His surviving father spearheaded Whitaker’s rescue effort, saying he would be a victim again if his son was executed.

Supporters of Lucio said her pardon request was similar in that her family would be re-traumatized if she was executed.

“Please allow us to come to terms with Mariah’s death and remember her without new pain, sorrow and grief. Please spare our mother’s life, “Lucio’s children wrote in a letter to Abbott and the board.


Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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Lawyers hope new evidence could stop the execution of the woman in Texas

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