A Texas appeals court on Monday delayed a woman’s execution amid growing questions about whether she fatally beat her 2-year-old daughter in a case that has garnered support from lawmakers, celebrities and even some of the jurors who they sentenced her to death. .
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a request by Melissa Lucio’s lawyers to stay the execution so a lower court can review her claims that new evidence in her case would exonerate her. It was not immediately known when the lower court began reviewing her case.
Lucio, 52, was to be executed by lethal injection Wednesday for the 2007 death of his two-year-old daughter, Mariah, in Harlingen, a city of about 75,000 people in the far south of Texas.
The stay of execution was announced minutes before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was to consider his request for clemency to commute his death sentence or grant him a 120-day reprieve. The board said in a statement that it “would not be making a leniency recommendation at this time.”
Lucio’s attorneys say new evidence shows Mariah’s injuries, including a blow to the head, were caused by a fall down a steep staircase, and many lawmakers and celebrities including Kim Kardashian, an advocate for criminal justice reform, and Amanda Knox, an American. whose murder conviction in the death of a British student in Italy was overturned, have joined Lucio’s cause. However, prosecutors maintain that the girl was a victim of child abuse.
Nearly half of the jurors who voted to convict her had called for her upcoming execution to be stopped and for her to be given a new trial.
What are the problems?
Lucio’s lawyers say his capital murder conviction was based on a forced and unreliable confession that was the result of relentless questioning over a period of hours, during which he asserted his innocence dozens of times. They say that Lucio was not allowed to present evidence that questioned the validity of his confession.
Her attorneys also contend that false and unscientific evidence misled jurors into believing that Mariah’s injuries could only have been caused by physical abuse and not medical complications from a severe fall.
“I knew that what they accused me of doing was not true. My children have always been my world and even though my choices in life were not good, I would never have hurt any of my children in that way,” Lucio wrote in a letter. to Texas legislators.
Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, whose office prosecuted the case, has said he disagrees with claims by Lucio’s attorneys that new evidence would exonerate her. Prosecutors say Lucio had a history of drug abuse and had at times lost custody of some of her 14 children.
During a sometimes contentious Texas House committee hearing on Lucio’s case this month, Saenz initially rejected calls to use his power to stop the execution, before later saying he would intervene if the courts failed to act.
“I don’t disagree with all the scrutiny this case is receiving. I appreciate it,” Saenz said.
Armando Villalobos was the county district attorney when Lucio was convicted in 2008, and Lucio’s attorneys allege that 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 judicial decisions.
Her attorneys also say Lucio’s sentence was disproportionate to what her husband and Mariah’s father, Robert Alvarez, received. He got a four-year sentence for causing injury to a child by negligence even though he was also responsible for Mariah’s care, Lucio’s attorneys argue.
Who joins on your behalf?
More than half of the members of the Texas legislature had called for his execution to be stopped. A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers traveled this month to Gatesville, where the state houses women on death row, and prayed with Lucio.
“Just knowing that Ms. Lucio’s case is out is enough to make me lose a lot of sleep,” Republican Rep. Jeff Leach told a Dallas television station last week.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure we’re not potentially executing an innocent Texan.”
Five of the 12 jurors who sentenced Lucio and one alternate juror have challenged his original decision and asked for a new trial.
“She wasn’t bad. She was just fighting… Had we listened passionately to the defense defending her in any way, we might have come to a different decision,” juror Johnny Galvan wrote in an affidavit expressing doubt about her conviction.
Lucio’s cause is also supported by religious leaders such as Sister Helen Prejean, the activist who pushed for the abolition of the death penalty for decades, and the case was featured on HBO. 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 his case, The State of Texas v. Melissawhich aired on Hulu in the US and aired on SuperChannel in Canada.
I just came to Texas to support @innocencetexas. They are doing a great job to free the innocent. Our thoughts all go out to Melissa Lucio, who has 2 days to live unless those with the power to stop the execution do so. Please read this thread! Share. The time is finishing. #SaveMelissaLucio https://t.co/u3yGBjWJWR
How an execution can be stopped or appealed
Appeals seeking to stop Lucio’s execution have been pending in state and federal courts.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles may hear an application to commute a death sentence to life in prison or grant a 120-day stay of execution to an applicant.
Any decision by the board to commute his sentence or grant clemency would need the governor’s approval. Abbott, who has granted clemency to only one death row inmate since he took office in 2015, also has the authority to unilaterally issue a 30-day stay of execution. Abbott commuted a death sentence to life in prison 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 save his son’s life.
Women criminals are rarely executed
Women have accounted for just 3.6 percent of the more than 16,000 confirmed executions in the US dating back to the colonial period in the 17th century, according to data from the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. , a nonprofit organization that opposes capital punishment.
Melissa Lucio’s family and attorneys allege that several men abused her in her life. This is common among women on death row. https://t.co/NyenzdHA78
Since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 17 women have been executed across the country, according to the data. Texas has executed more women (six) than any other state, though not since 2014. Oklahoma follows 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 has once again halted executions under the Biden administration.