Attorneys Hope That New Evidence Will Save a Texas Woman From Being Executed.

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HOUSTON, Texas — Melissa Lucio denied fatally beating her 2-year-old daughter more than 100 times during hours of questioning.

But, exhausted by a lifetime of abuse and the grief of losing her daughter Mariah, the Texas woman eventually agreed to cooperate with investigators, according to her lawyers. When asked if she was to blame for some of Mariah’s injuries, Lucio replied, “I guess I did it.”

Her attorneys claim that prosecutors misinterpreted her statement as a murder confession, tainting the rest of the investigation into Mariah’s 2007 death, with evidence gathered solely to prove that conclusion, and contributing to her capital murder conviction. They claim Mariah died as a result of injuries sustained in a fall down the 14 steps of a steep staircase outside the family’s apartment in Harlingen, Texas.

 

Texas Crime And Safety

 

As her execution date approaches on April 27, Lucio’s lawyers hope that new evidence, combined with growing public support — including from jurors who now question the conviction and more than half of the Texas House of Representatives — will persuade the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Greg Abbott to grant an execution reprieve or commute her sentence.

“Mariah’s death was a tragedy, not a homicide.” If this execution goes ahead, it would send a devastating message. “It would give the message that innocence isn’t important,” said Vanessa Potkin, one of Lucio’s attorneys with the Innocence Project.

According to Lucio’s attorneys, jurors never heard forensic evidence that would have explained Mariah’s different injuries were caused by a fall days earlier. They also claim Lucio was not permitted to present evidence challenging the veracity of her confession.

According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, evidence reveals Mariah was subjected to the “absolutely worst” case of child abuse her emergency department doctor had seen in 30 years.

“Lucio continues to advance no solid and supported proof of her acquittal,” the office noted in court records last month.

The Cameron County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Lucio, did not respond to requests for comment.

Lucio, 53, would be Texas’s first Latina executioner and the state’s first female executioner since 2014. Since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on the death penalty in 1976, only 17 women have been executed in the United States, the most recently in January 2021.

Lucio’s lawyers argue in their clemency petition that, while she had used drugs, causing her to temporarily lose custody of her children, she was a loving mother who worked hard to stay drug-free and provide for her family. Lucio had 14 children and was expecting his second and third when Mariah died.

Lucio and her children were impoverished. According to the petition, they were homeless at times and relied on food banks for meals. Child Protective Services was present in the family’s life, but no child was ever accused of abuse, according to Potkin.

Lucio had been sexually assaulted several times since the age of six, as well as physically and emotionally abused by two husbands. Her attorneys claim that her lifelong trauma made her vulnerable to making a false confession.

According to Lucio in the 2020 documentary “The State of Texas vs. Melissa,” detectives kept pressuring her to admit she had harmed Mariah.

“I wasn’t going to acknowledge to causing her death because I wasn’t at fault,” Lucio explained.

According to her counsel, Lucio’s sentence was disproportionate to that of her husband and Mariah’s father, Robert Alvarez. According to Lucio’s lawyers, he received a four-year sentence for causing injury to a child by omission despite the fact that he was also responsible for Mariah’s care.

Lucio’s conviction was reversed in 2019 by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled she was denied “her constitutional right to mount a meaningful defence.” The entire court, however, ruled in 2021 that the conviction had to be upheld for procedural reasons, “despite the difficult issue of the exclusion of testimony that may have thrown doubt on the veracity of Lucio’s confession.”

In Lucio’s trial, three jurors and one alternate wrote affidavits expressing questions about her conviction.

“She wasn’t bad. She was simply striving… “We might have reached a different verdict if we had heard strongly from the defence supporting her in some way,” juror Johnny Galvan wrote in an affidavit.

83 Texas House members wrote to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Abbott last month, saying that killing Lucio would be a “miscarriage of justice.”

“As a conservative Republican who has historically supported the death sentence in the most egregious crimes… I have never encountered a more distressing case than Melissa Lucio’s,” state Rep. Jeff Leach, who signed the letter, added.

Abbott has the authority to give a one-time 30-day respite. He has the authority to give clemency if a majority of the paroles board recommends it.

According to Rachel Alderete, the board’s director of support operations, the board plans to vote on Lucio’s clemency petition two days before his scheduled execution. Abbott’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Since entering office in 2015, Abbott has given mercy to only one death row inmate, Thomas Whitaker. Whitaker was found guilty of masterminding the murders of his mother and brother. His father, who survived, led the drive to spare Whitaker, claiming that if his son was executed, he would be victimised again.

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According to Lucio’s supporters, her clemency appeal is similar in that her family would be retraumatized if she were executed.

“Please allow us to come to terms with Mariah’s passing and remember her without experiencing further pain, anguish, or grief.” “Please spare our mother’s life,” Lucio’s children said in a letter to Abbott and the board.

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