Lucio, 53, had been due to be executed on April 27th for the 2007 death of her baby daughter Mariah. She told police at the time that Mariah fell down the stairs and died later as a result of her injuries, but police ruled she was lying.
She made a confession that lawyers and advocates now say was coerced and even the jury that convicted her is calling for a new trial in light of modern day medical evidence.
On Monday, a Texas appeals court issued a stay pending further review of her case by the 138th Judicial District Court of Cameron County.
In a statement issued through her attorneys after the decision, Lucio said: ‘I thank God for my life. I have always turned to Him. I am grateful the court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence.
‘Mariah is in my heart today and always. I am grateful to have more days to be a mother to my children and a grandmother to my grandchildren. I will use my time to help bring them to Christ. I am deeply grateful to everyone who prayed for me and spoke out on my behalf.’
Melissa Lucio, 53, is due to be executed on April 27th for the 2007 death of her baby daughter Mariah. She told police at the time that Mariah fell down the stairs and died later as a result of her injuries, but police ruled she was lying.
Ahead of the parole board decision, Lucio’s elderly mother appeared in an interview with CBS News to beg for her to be spared. Speaking in Spanish, she said: ‘The DA’s got children of his own. He wouldn’t like this to happen to his kids.’
A wave of celebrities and politicians are now weighing in on the case, begging the parole board to reconsider Melissa’s sentence
Esperanza bows her head during a vigil at the Basilica Of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle National Shrine, Friday, April 22, 2022, in San Juan, Texas
Melissa Lucio (pictured center) bows her head in prayer during a session with State Representative Jeff Leach in prison this month
Lucio’s elderly mother Esperanza appeared in an interview with CBS News to beg for her to be spared. Speaking in Spanish, she said: ‘The DA’s got children of his own. He wouldn’t like this to happen to his kids.’
She added that she was optimistic her daughter’s execution would not go ahead: ‘I have children and they hurt. It hurts for me to lose one of my children She’s coming home. I told her she was coming home.’
The Texas Parole Board is due to meet at 1.30pm local time to make a decision. Governor Greg Abbott has not commented.
Lucio’s son also told the network they would be executing an ‘innocent woman’ if they kill his mother.
Lawyers from the Innocence Project have filed a clemency application to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles which is set to consider her case today by 1.30pm CT.
They will make a recommendation to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott who has until Wednesday 6pm to intervene in what would be the first Latina ever executed by Texas and the first woman the state has put to death since 2014.
Lucio, who has been in custody since 2007, maintains that Mariah died from injuries sustained during a fall down a flight of stairs even though she confessed to hurting Mariah at the time
If they do not recommend clemency, all he can do is postpone the execution by 30 days, during which her legal team will have to reconsider their options.
Separately, Lucio’s legal team are pursuing two last-ditch attempts to spare her life.
They filed several motions in the Texas Supreme Court of Appeals which could stop the death sentence at any point before Wednesday.
The Cameron County District Attorney’s office is also yet to rule on a motion to withdraw the execution which had been filed in February.
Her lawyers say new evidence shows that Mariah’s injuries, including a blow to the head, were caused by a fall down a steep staircase, and nearly half of the jurors who sentenced her have called for her execution to be halted and demanded a retrial.
Lawmakers and celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, an advocate for criminal justice reform, and Amanda Knox – an American who was convicted of murdering a British student in Italy and whose conviction was overturned – have rallied to Lucio’s cause.
A bipartisan group of 100 Texas lawmakers have been pushing for the parole board and governor to spare her life.
Last week, a few of them joined Lucio for a prayer session in prison.
Prosecutors, though, maintain that the girl was the victim of child abuse.
In addition to the blunt-force injury to her head that was determined to have killed her, Mariah’s body was found to have bruises, scratches, and a bite mark on her back, leading investigators to believe that Mariah had been killed, and suspecting Lucio of the crime.
Lucio’s attorneys say her capital murder conviction was based on an unreliable and coerced confession that was the result of relentless questioning and her long history of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
State Reps. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, left to right, Brad Buckley, R-Killeen, and Jeff Leach, R-Plano, arrive for the Interim Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform hearing about death row inmate Melissa Lucio at the Capitol. They are all calling for the execution to be stayed
In this 2007 video interview tape, Lucio is shown acting out how she ‘beat’ Mariah to death. Her attorneys say it was a coerced confession after five hours of interrogation. She was pregnant at the time with twins
Three hours into a late-night interrogation Lucio confessed to police that she had spanked and bitten her daughter – an admission that became the backbone of the case against her
She is set to be executed Wednesday for the death of Mariah (pictured on her lap alongside daughter Adriana)
‘This new evidence shows that Ms. Lucio was convicted of a crime that never occurred,’ the 242-page writ of habeas corpus says.
‘Ms. Lucio asserted her innocence more than 100 times, but police refused to accept any response that was not an admission of guilt – suggesting to Ms. Lucio that the interrogation would not stop unless she told them what they wanted to hear,’ the filing reads.
They say Lucio wasn’t allowed to present evidence questioning the validity of her confession.
Her lawyers also contend that unscientific and false evidence misled jurors into believing Mariah’s injuries only could have been caused by physical abuse and not by medical complications from a severe fall.
‘I knew that what I was accused of doing was not true.
‘My children have always been my world and although my choices in life were not good I would have never hurt any of my children in such a way,’ Lucio wrote in a letter to Texas lawmakers.
The Innocence Project say that Lucio’s lifelong history as a victim of sexual and domestic abuse made her particularly susceptible to confessing to things she never did
Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, whose office prosecuted the case, has said he disagrees with Lucio’s lawyers’ claims that new evidence would exonerate her.
Prosecutors say Lucio had a history of drug abuse and at times had lost custody of some of her 14 children.
During her interrogation Lucio initially maintained that Mariah had fallen down the stairs a few days before she became unresponsive, but after about three hours she admitted to spanking and biting Mariah.
‘What do you want me to say? I’m responsible for it,’ Lucio told Texas Rangers when they pressed her on the bite mark.
The statement became the backbone of the state’s case against Mariah, with prosecutors using what they characterized as an admission of child abuse to connect Lucio directly to her daughters death.
Though Lucio never admitted to actually killing Maria or causing fatal-harm, the Cameron County jury found the abuse admissions adequate to find Lucio guilty and deserving of the death penalty.
But advocates of Lucio say that the confession was clearly made and coerced under duress, and that Lucio’s longtime history as a victim of sexual and domestic abuse made her especially susceptible to confessing to things she never did – a point which was not made at Lucio’s trial because the judge did not allow a psychologist to testify on the subject.
During a sometimes contentious Texas House committee hearing on Lucio’s case this month, Saenz initially pushed back on requests to use his power to stop the execution, before later saying he would intervene if the courts didn’t act.
‘I don’t disagree with all the scrutiny this case is getting. I welcome that,’ Saenz said.
Armando Villalobos was the county’s district attorney when Lucio was convicted in 2008, and Lucio’s lawyers allege that he pushed for a conviction to help his reelection bid.
In 2014, Villalobos was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for a bribery scheme related to offering favorable prosecutorial decisions.
More than half the members of the Texas House and Senate have asked that her execution 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.
Five of the 12 jurors who sentenced Lucio and one alternate juror have questioned their decision and asked she get a new trial. And Lucio’s cause also has the backing of faith leaders and was featured on HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.’
Lucio’s family and supporters have been traveling throughout Texas and holding rallies and screenings of a 2020 documentary about her case, The State of Texas vs. Melissa.
Abbott has granted clemency to only one death row inmate since taking office in 2015.
Abbott commuted a death sentence to life without parole for Thomas ‘Bart’ Whitaker, who was convicted of fatally shooting his mother and brother. Whitaker’s father was also shot but survived and led the effort to spare his son’s life.
It’s rare in the U.S. for a woman to be executed, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that opposes capital punishment.
Women have accounted for only 3.6 per cent of the more than 16,000 confirmed executions in the U.S. dating back to the colonial period in the 1600s, according to the group’s data.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, there have been 17 women executed throughout the nation, according to the data.
Texas has put more women to death – six – than any other state. Oklahoma is next, with three, and Florida has executed two.
The federal government has executed one woman since 1976. Lisa Montgomery, of Kansas, received a lethal injection in January 2021 after the Trump administration resumed executions in the federal system following a 17-year hiatus.
The Justice Department has halted executions again under the Biden administration.
After reading about Lucio’s case, Kardashian tweeted: ‘[Lucio] has been on death row for over 14 years for her daughter’s death that was a tragic accident.
‘Her 2-year-old daughter Mariah fell down a flight of stairs and two days later passed away while taking a nap.
‘After she called for help, she was taken into custody by the police. [Lucio] is a survivor of abuse and domestic violence herself and after being interrogated for hours and falsely pleaded guilty.
‘She wanted the interrogation to be stopped, but police made her words out to be a confession.’
‘She is scheduled to be executed on April 27 in Texas,’ the reality star added, as she urged the public to sign a petition by the Innocent Project in an effort to press Governor Abbott to stop Lucio’s execution.