Melissa Lucio’s attorneys make last-ditch bid to DA to stop execution using his testimony against him

Melissa Lucio is scheduled to be put to death at 6pm local time on Wednesday for a crime she says she didn’t commit

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 26 April 2022 10:48 BST
Melissa Lucio: Supporters gather to call on state to stop execution

Melissa Lucio’s attorneys have made a last-ditch bid to Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz to withdraw her execution date, using his own testimony under oath against him.

On Monday morning, Lucio’s legal team filed an additional supplement to a previous motion asking the DA to withdraw the order setting the 53-year-old’s execution date.

The new filing includes “overwhelming evidence” that her execution would be “a miscarriage of justice” including the 242-page application filed on 15 April asking the Texas Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant a stay of execution.

It also includes a transcript of Mr Saenz’s sworn testimony to the Texas House Interim Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform earlier this month where he promised to step in and stop her execution before it’s too late.

Lucio is scheduled to be put to death at 6pm local time on Wednesday for the 2007 murder of her two-year-old daughter Mariah.

The Hispanic mother-of-14 has long maintained her innocence, saying her little girl died as a result of injuries from an accidental fall down the stairs two days earlier.

It was Mr Saenz’s office that requested a death warrant and an execution date for Lucio, leading to her execution date being set back in January.

The DA therefore also has the power to withdraw her execution date at any time.

Lucio’s legal team initially filed a motion asking the DA to withdraw her execution on 8 February.

So far, he has given mixed messages about whether or not he will step in and stop the execution.

Earlier this month, during a contentious hearing led by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, Mr Saenz initially refused to take any action to stop Lucio’s execution and cast doubt on new evidence suggesting she was not responsible for Mariah’s death.

But, later in the hearing, Mr Saenz relented saying that he believes the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will issue a stay but that, if it doesn’t, he will.

“If defendant Lucio does not get a stay by a certain day, then I will do what I have to do and stop it,” he said.

Republican State Rep. Jeff Leach warned the prosecutor that he would hold him to his promise saying “we got it on tape”.

Now – just 48 hours until Lucio will be put to death – Mr Saenz is yet to take any action to halt the execution.

Melissa Lucio with her children. Records show she never abused her children
Melissa Lucio with her children. Records show she never abused her children (The Family of Melissa Lucio)

Lucio’s attorneys said they were asking the trial court once again to withdraw the execution as it is now just two days until it is scheduled to go ahead.

Last week, Lucio’s attorney Sandra Babcock told The Independent the team wasn’t confident the DA would stick to his word, after he said “different things at different times” during the hearing.

She said they had written to him asking him to act but received no response.

“It doesn’t really make sense if he agrees the stay of execution is appropriate then why wait? What is he waiting for?” asks Ms Babcock.

“The waiting is just inflicting more unnecessary anguish on Melissa and her children.”

His office has not responded to The Independent’s questions about when he plans to put a stop to the execution or why he is waiting for the appeals court to act first.

The last-ditch bid from Lucio’s attorneys comes the same day that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is meeting to decide whether Lucio should be granted clemency.

The parole board has until 1.30pm local time on Wednesday to recommend whether Lucio’s death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment or if she be granted a 120-day execution reprieve or if the execution should go ahead.

If the board recommends the execution be either commuted or stayed, it will then be up to Governor Greg Abbott to decide whether to act on the recommendation.

Lucio, a victim of lifelong domestic violence, was sentenced to death in 2008 after prosecutors claimed Mariah died from her mother physically abusing her.

For the last 14 years, Lucio has insisted she is innocent – and that no murder even took place – with her daughter sadly passing away from injuries caused by a fall down a flight of stairs two days earlier.

Her attorneys say that a “coerced false confession” was used to convict Lucio after the pregnant, grieving mother was “manipulated” in an aggressive five-hour interrogation by police officers in the hours after her daughter’s sudden death.

Crucial expert testimony for the defence was also excluded from her trial while false scientific evidence of the child’s injuries was presented to the jury and Lucio was subjected to gender bias from the get-go, according to her legal team.

All of Lucio’s surviving children have begged Texas authorities not to kill their mother.

Celebrities, public figures and state lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are calling for her execution to be halted.

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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