Melissa Lucio

Melissa Lucio is scheduled to be executed by the state of Texas on April 27, 2022, despite questions about the validity of evidence that was used against her in her trial regarding the death of her two-year-old daughter and about the confession advocates say she gave as the result of coercion by police. (Photo: @freemellucio/Twitter)

Lawmakers, Former Jurors Demand Clemency for Texas Death Row Inmate Melissa Lucio

Jurors who heard Lucio's case in 2007 are among those who are calling for a new trial, as evidence that could prove Lucio's innocence was not originally presented.

Lawmakers and criminal justice reform advocates are calling for clemency for Melissa Lucio, a woman who is set to be executed by the state of Texas on April 27, 15 years after being convicted of murdering her two-year-old daughter--a conviction that resulted from a misunderstanding of an accident and a coerced false confession, Lucio's attorneys say.

Lawyers with The Innocence Project are calling on the Texas Board of Pardons to recommend that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott either commute Lucio's sentence or establish a reprieve of at least 120 days so authorities can examine evidence that was not available to jurors during Lucio's trial in 2007.

Lucio's daughter Mariah died in February 2007, two days after falling down a steep flight of stairs when Lucio was packing up her family's apartment for a move. The child died after the family had moved to their new home. As CNN reported Wednesday:

Lucio told paramedics Mariah had fallen down the stairs days prior, but one of the emergency responders was skeptical, the petition says, because the residence was a single story with just a few steps out front. He didn't understand, the petition says, that the girl had fallen at the family's prior home.

"This critical misunderstanding set in motion an investigation plagued by tunnel vision," Lucio's petition says, "where the investigators continually assumed the worst about Melissa without investigating or considering alternatives."

Lucio was aggressively interrogated by police two hours after losing her daughter and was subjected to "coercive methods known to produce false confessions," according to The Innocence Project. Medical experts who have reviewed Lucio's case say that given Lucio's history as a survivor of abuse, she was even more susceptible to the tactics used by the police.

"After several hours of interrogation, Ms. Lucio said, 'I guess I did it,' and made other incriminating statements, to get the officers to end the interrogation," according to The Innocence Project, which advocates for wrongfully-accused people on Death Row. "Her inadvertent statement was then characterized by the prosecution as a confession to murder."

"I believe that Ms. Lucio deserves a new trial and for a new jury to hear this evidence. Knowing what I know now, I don't think she should be executed."

At her trial, Lucio and her legal team were prevented from presenting evidence that would have called into question the prosecutors' claims that she was abusive to her 12 children.

Lucio's children maintain that their mother struggled to raise them, having given birth to five of her children by the time she was 23 and then being abandoned by her first husband. More than 1,000 pages of records from Child Protective Services (CPS) show that the family's electricity was sometimes shut off for nonpayment, they often relied on food from community groups, and that they moved frequently and at times faced homelessness. Lucio also struggled with drug use disorder.

In 2004, several of Lucio's children were removed from her home and placed in foster care due to neglect, and Lucio eventually regained custody of them in 2006 after ending her drug use and securing a job.

None of the records show any evidence that Lucio abused her children or that her children ever made such accusations.

"Basically, we were in survival mode," her son, John Lucio, toldCNN. "She was a battered woman. She'd been through a lot."

"But she's a great mother," he added, telling the outlet she "never laid a hand on any of us."

Lucio's conviction has been appealed but upheld thus far, but in 2019 a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that she had been unable to present a full defense in 2007. Along with the CPS reports, the court excluded testimony by two expert witnesses who had planned to call Lucio's coerced confession into question.

The prosecutors also relied on bite-mark evidence to make their case that Mariah had been physically abused; that type of forensic evidence has been discredited since the trial.

"The State presented no physical evidence or witness testimony establishing that Lucio abused Mariah or any of her children, let alone killed Mariah," Judge Catharina Haynes of the Fifth Circuit appeals court wrote. "The jury was deprived of key evidence to weigh: that is the point."

But last year, Lucio's conviction and death sentence were reinstated after the appeals court reversed its ruling.

Led by one Republican and one Democrat, half the members of the Texas state House have called on the Board of Pardons to recommend that the execution not move forward next week, and five of the jurors who heard Lucio's original case have joined the call for a retrial.

"I believe that Ms. Lucio deserves a new trial and for a new jury to hear this evidence," one of the jurors wrote in a declaration. "Knowing what I know now, I don't think she should be executed."

The case has led state Rep. Jeff Leach, a conservative Republican, to wrestle "with the very existence of the death penalty in Texas," Leach said during a visit with Lucio earlier this month, adding that her case is the one of the "most shocking, the most problematic" examples of egregious errors made in the justice system in death penalty cases.

"Greg Abbott must stop the execution of an innocent Texan before it's too late," Rochelle Garza, a Democrat running for state attorney general, said last week.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.