Bipartisan group urges reconsideration of Melissa Lucio’s death sentence

New evidence and a thorough investigation into Lucio’s interrogation reveals a lack of sufficient evidence, but she is still due for execution on Wednesday, April 27.

Melissa Lucio’s lawyers are fighting to overturn her conviction and set aside her execution date due to her continuing claims of innocence and other procedural issues. (Courtesy of Team Lucio via the Innocence Project)

A bipartisan group of Texas state lawmakers have asked authorities to reconsider the scheduled April 27 execution of Melissa Lucio, who was convicted of murder in 2008 for the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Mariah. They join hundreds of other Texans, including 225 anti-domestic violence groups, 130 religious leaders and 30 Latin American organizations, in urging the Pardons and Parole Board and Governor Abbott to grant Lucio a reprieve. These appeals are based, in part, on new information and expert testimony questioning Lucio’s guilt included in the leniency request filed recently by his lawyers.

The clemency petition challenges the validity of Lucio’s coerced “confession” the night Mariah died, two days after she fell down a flight of stairs. Affidavits from internationally recognized experts on false confessions concluded that Lucio’s “confession” was essentially a regurgitation of information suggested by male investigators during his five-hour interrogation. In fact, Lucio maintained his innocence 86 times verbally and 35 times non-verbally during five hours of harsh questioning. The survivors of sexual and domestic abuselike Lucio, are highly susceptible to false confessions due to past trauma, and studies indicate that women are more vulnerable to make false confessions than men.

Seven forensic experts, including a pediatric medical examiner, support the conclusion that Mariah’s death could have been caused by medical complications from her fall, rather than physical abuse.

The conclusions of the medical examiner who determined that Mariah could only have died as a result of child abuse are also called into question by the request for clemency. At Lucio’s trial, the medical examiner told the jury that child abuse was the only possible explanation for Mariah’s injuries. Yet statements from seven forensic experts, including a pediatric medical examiner, support the conclusion that Mariah’s death could have been caused by medical complications. fall, rather than physical violence. Child Protective Services had followed the family for years but had never documented any physical abuse and Lucio’s children told police that no physical abuse had taken place.

The trial court did not allow Lucio’s original defense team to present evidence to explain their statements, and the defense never presented an alternative theory for Mariah’s death. Four jurors and an alternate juror submitted statements in support of Lucio’s clemency request, alleging that the presentation of such evidence would have materially impacted the deliberations.

The clemency petition also describes troubling gender double standards in Lucio’s case. Robert Alvarez, Mariah’s father, and Lucio were both home and nursing equally when they called an ambulance, but investigators never questioned Alvarez’s explanation for Mariah’s injuries. . In contrast, investigators were hostile and skeptical of Lucio, immediately treating her as a suspect. In the end, Alvarez was only sentenced to four years for injuring a child by omission for not seeking medical attention while Lucio was sentenced to capital murder.

Robert Alvarez, Mariah’s father, and Lucio were both home and caring similarly when they called an ambulance, but investigators never questioned Alvarez’s explanations for the Mariah’s injuries.

“Police and prosecutors treated Robert and Melissa differently from start to finish,” said Sandra Babcock, director of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and one of Lucio’s attorneys. “The police expressed their empathy for Robert, saying they were sorry for the loss of his daughter. They apologized for asking difficult questions. They called him ‘Sir’. They gave him a cigarette. They heard it.

“On the other hand, they treated Melissa like a criminal”, Babcock continued, “even though she had no record of violence or abuse. They repeatedly harassed her, interrupting her and insisting that she was guilty. The difference in treatment between Robert and Melissa can only be attributed to gender bias.At the time of police questioning, there was no evidence that either parent was responsible for Mariah’s death – and we now know that the Mariah’s death was an accident, yet the police prosecuted Melissa because they concluded she was not behaving like a grieving mother should.

Lucio’s case is the subject of a 2020 Hulu documentary, The State of Texas vs. Melissa, who supports his defense team’s claims of innocence and presents evidence of this abuse. (The State of Texas vs. Melissa via Hulu/Sabrina Van Tassel)

The clemency petition asks the Board of Pardons and Parole to exercise its broad discretion in commuting Lucio’s sentence to life in prison or delaying his execution for 120 days while she seeks a new trial. If the Board makes a recommendation, it will be sent to Governor Abbott for approval – or the Governor can delay implementation for 30 days unilaterally.

At a press briefing last month, Texas lawmakers from both sides explained that clemency is justified because of the unfairness of Lucio’s investigation and prosecution. the lawmakers have also called for review new credible evidence of Lucio’s innocence to avoid unfairly inflicting what Rep. Lacey Hull, a freshman Republican senator, called “the ultimate punishment.”

But if neither the Pardons and Parole Board nor Governor Abbott heeds those pleas, Lucio — who likely committed no crime — will receive the death penalty.

Take action

Add your name to the petition to stop the execution of Melissa Lucio here.

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About Jessica J. Bass

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