Nearly half of the jurors who sentenced a Texas woman to death for the 2007 death of one of her 14 children have called for her execution to be halted and for her to get a new trial.
Melissa Lucio, 52, is due to be executed Wednesday for the death of her two-year-old daughter Mariah in Harlingen, a town of about 75,000 people on the southern tip of Texas.
Her lawyers say new evidence shows Mariah’s injuries, including a blow to the head, were caused by falling down a steep staircase, and many lawmakers and celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, a law enforcement reform lawyer criminal justice, and Amanda Knox – an American whose murder conviction in the death of a British student in Italy was overturned – rallied to Lucio’s cause. Prosecutors, however, argue that the girl was abused.
Lucio’s lawyers filed several lawsuits to stop his execution. She also has a clemency petition before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is due to hear her case on Monday. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott may play a role in Lucio’s fate.
What are the problems ?
Lucio’s lawyers say her capital murder conviction was based on an unreliable and coerced confession that was the result of relentless questioning over a period of hours, during which she asserted her innocence dozens of times. They say Lucio was not allowed to present evidence challenging the validity of his confession.
Her lawyers also argue that unscientific and false evidence misled jurors into believing that Mariah’s injuries could only have been caused by physical abuse and not medical complications from a serious fall.
“I knew what I was accused of doing was not true. My children have always been my world and even if my life choices were not good, I would never have hurt any of my children in this way. way,” Lucio wrote in a letter. to Texas lawmakers.
Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, whose office prosecuted the case, said he disagreed with Lucio’s attorneys’ claims that new evidence would exonerate him. Prosecutors say Lucio had a history of drug addiction and at times lost custody of some of his 14 children.
During a sometimes contentious Texas House committee hearing on Lucio’s case this month, Saenz initially rebuffed requests to use his power to stop the execution, before later saying that would intervene if the courts did not act.
“I don’t disagree with all the scrutiny of this case. I welcome that,” Saenz said.
Armando Villalobos was the county district attorney when Lucio was convicted in 2008, and Lucio’s attorneys allege he pushed for a conviction to help his re-election bid. In 2014, Villalobos was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for a bribery scheme related to offering favorable prosecution rulings.
His lawyers also say Lucio’s sentence was disproportionate to what her husband and Mariah’s father, Robert Alvarez, received. He was sentenced to four years in prison for injuring a child by omission, even though he was also responsible for Mariah’s care, Lucio’s lawyers claim.
Who is mobilizing on his behalf?
More than half the members of the Texas legislature have called for his execution to be halted. A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers traveled this month to Gatesville, where the state houses female death row inmates, and prayed with Lucio.
“Just knowing that Ms. Lucio’s case is out there is enough to make me lose a lot of sleep,” Republican Rep. Jeff Leach told a Dallas television station last week.
“We must not be afraid at all to ask questions and make sure that we are not potentially executing an innocent fellow Texan.”
Five of the 12 jurors who convicted Lucio and a substitute juror questioned their decision and asked him to get a new trial.
“She wasn’t evil. She was just struggling. … If we had passionately heard the defense defending her in some way, we might have made a different decision,” juror Johnny wrote. Galvan in an affidavit expressing doubts about his conviction.
Lucio’s cause also has the support of religious leaders such as Sister Helen Prejean, the activist who has been pushing for the abolition of the death penalty for decades, and the case has been featured on HBO. Last week tonight with John Oliver.
Lucio’s family and supporters traveled across Texas and held rallies and screenings of a 2020 documentary about his case, The State of Texas vs. Melissaaired on Hulu in the United States and streamed on SuperChannel in Canada.
I just arrived in Texas to support @innocencetexas. They do a great job of freeing the innocent. Our thoughts are with Melissa Lucio who has 2 days to live unless those with the power to stop the execution do so. Please read this thread! Share. Hurry up. #SaveMelissaLucio https://t.co/u3yGBjWJWR
What could delay or stop the execution
Appeals to prevent Lucio’s execution are pending in state and federal courts.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Pardons is considering a request to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment or grant him a 120-day reprieve.
Any board decision to commute his sentence or grant the reprieve would require Abbott’s approval. The governor, who has only granted clemency to one death row inmate since taking office in 2015, could also unilaterally issue a 30-day stay of execution. Abbott commuted the death sentence to life without parole for Thomas (Bart) Whitaker, who was convicted of shooting and killing his mother and brother. Whitaker’s father was also shot but survived and led the effort to spare his son’s life.
Women offenders are rarely executed
Women make up just 3.6% of the more than 16,000 confirmed executions in the United States since the colonial period of the 1600s, according to data from the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that opposes to capital punishment.
Melissa Lucio’s family and lawyers say she has been abused by multiple men in her life. It’s common among women on death row. https://t.co/NyenzdHA78
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 17 women have been executed nationwide, the data shows. Texas has put more women to death – six – than any other state, but not since 2014. Oklahoma is next with three, and Florida has executed two.
The federal government has executed a woman since 1976. Lisa Montgomery of Kansas received a lethal injection in January 2021 after the Trump administration resumed executions in the federal system after a 17-year hiatus. The Justice Department halted executions again under the Biden administration.