Texas prosecutors admit evidence was suppressed in Melissa Lucio death penalty case

The case has garnered international attention over the years, including from criminal justice reform advocate Kim Kardashian who has long supported her innocence

Katie Hawkinson
Wednesday 10 April 2024 18:51 BST
Related video: Melissa Lucio sobs as she learns her life has been saved

Melissa Lucio, a Texas woman being held on death row for the murder of her child, received an unfair trial and should have never been convicted, prosecutors say.

The Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz and Lucio’s attorneys submitted a court filing this week agreeing that Lucio’s trial was unfair, with suppressed evidence that would have supported her defence. Both parties agreed Lucio would not have been convicted if she received a fair trial. Mr Saenz was not the District Attorney at the time of Lucio’s conviction.

“The Court concludes that Applicant has met her burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she would not have been convicted in light of the suppressed evidence,” the filing reads.

Melissa Lucio’s mother, Esperanza Treviño, and other supporters gathered at the Cameron County Courthouse to protest her execution in 2022. Now, prosecutors say she received an unfair trial.
Melissa Lucio’s mother, Esperanza Treviño, and other supporters gathered at the Cameron County Courthouse to protest her execution in 2022. Now, prosecutors say she received an unfair trial. (AP)

Now, Lucio’s case will go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the only court that can vacate a conviction. Both parties expressed that her conviction and death sentence should be overturned.

“We are hopeful that Melissa’s case will be resolved,” the District Attorney and Lucio’s attorney said in a joint statement.

Lucio’s children, Michelle and John, also released a statement through their mother’s legal team this week praising the filing.

“We are grateful to District Attorney Saenz for recognizing that evidence that our baby sister Mariah’s death was an accident, not a murder, was never presented to the jury,” Michelle and John Lucio said. “We are also thankful to Melissa’s legal team. We hope and pray that our mother can soon come home to her family.”

Lucio was first arrested in 2007 after her two-year-old, Mariah, was found motionless in her family’s home. The child showed signs of a broken arm untreated for weeks, a head injury, bite marks on her back, and bruises across her body.

Prosecutors claimed she beat her child to death, while Lucio said the two-year-old sustained the injuries were caused by falling down stairs. Lucio was convicted and sentenced to death in 2008.

Now, 16 years later, both parties agree suppressed evidence — such as a Child Protection Services report and witness statements — would have corroborated Lucio’s defence, according to this week’s court filing.

She was scheduled to be executed in 2022, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted her a stay with just 48 hours to spare.

Melissa Lucio, pictured above in an undated booking photo from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, had favourable evidence suppressed at her trial
Melissa Lucio, pictured above in an undated booking photo from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, had favourable evidence suppressed at her trial (AP)

The stay came after her legal team presented a trove of new evidence to support her claims of innocence. By this time, Lucio’s case had gained international attention from advocacy organisations, activists and celebrities alike.

Kim Kardashian, a criminal justice reform advocate, was outspoken about Lucio’s case ahead of her scheduled execution.

In April 2022, she shared a letter from Lucio’s children to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, asking him to spare her life.

“So heartbreaking to read this letter from Melissa Lucio’s children begging for the state not to kill their mother,” the celebrity wrote on Facebook. “There are so many unresolved questions surrounding this case and the evidence that was used to convict her.”

Then, she celebrated Lucio’s stay of execution later that month.

“Best news ever,” Ms Kardashian wrote on X in 2022. “Melissa Lucio has been on death row for over 14 years for her daughter’s death that was a tragic accident. She is getting a hearing on her claims for her case & has been granted a stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.”

The Independent has contacted Ms Kardashian for comment.

Lucio’s son, Bobby Alvarez, spoke to The Independent just days after Lucio received her stay. He vowed to keep fighting for his mother’s innocence.

““I cried every night wanting to be back with her, for my parents to come for us,” Mr Alvarez told The Independent, referring to her arrest. “I knew they weren’t coming but there was always that hope.”

“Even though we’ve got the stay it doesn’t mean the fight is now over,” he said after her execution was stayed.

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