Melissa Lucio’s son vows to ‘keep fighting until she gets home’ as death row case will return to court

Bobby Alvarez tellsThe Independent that the ‘fight still isn’t over’ to free his mother from death row

Tuesday 03 May 2022 19:21 BST
Melissa Lucio praying with Texas state lawmakers on death row before she was granted a stay of execution
Melissa Lucio praying with Texas state lawmakers on death row before she was granted a stay of execution (AP)

Melissa Lucio’s son has vowed to “keep fighting until she gets to come home” as the case of the Texas mother-of-14 heads to state court following her last-minute stay of execution.

Bobby Alvarez told The Independent that the “fight still isn’t over” to save his mother’s life and that his family still has a “long, long battle” ahead before she can walk free from death row.

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

“We’ve just completed the first step but there’s many more steps to come.

“It was a really big step but it’s still going to be a long, long battle.”

Last week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Lucio a stay of execution just 48 hours before she was to be put to death for a crime she says she didn’t commit.

The 53-year-old, a lifelong victim of domestic and sexual violence, was sentenced to death in 2008 after being convicted of the 2007 murder of her two-year-old daughter Mariah.

For 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 legal team presented a trove of new evidence to support her claims of innocence and Lucio’s case gained attention across the globe, with activists, celebrities and even a bipartisan group of state lawmakers calling for execution to be halted.

As her 27 April execution date loomed, Lucio’s children begged Texas officials to spare their mother’s life and jurors on her original trial said they would never have convicted her if they had seen the evidence available now.

On 25 April – two days before she was scheduled to die – the appeals court granted Lucio a stay of execution and ordered the trial court to review the evidence in the case to determine if she should get a new trial.

Now the immediate shock of the last-minute reprieve has worn off and the celebrations have died down, Mr Alvarez said that there is still much more work to do before his mother will be free.

Melissa Lucio sobs as she learns her life has been saved

“It’s been a few days since we got the news,” he said.

“But the fight still isn’t over. Just because we got the stay doesn’t mean we can stop fighting.

“We’re going to keep fighting until she gets to come home.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

In its decision, the appeals court said it agreed that four of the nine claims put forward by her legal team in its habeas corpus application should be reviewed by the trial court.

The four claims are: prosecutors used false evidence to convict her and if it weren’t for this false testimony, no juror would have convicted her; that previously unavailable scientific evidence would have prevented her conviction; that she is actually innocent; and that prosecutors suppressed evidence that would have been favorable to her defense.

A trial court judge will now review the case and make a recommenation to the state court around whether or not Lucio should be given a new trial.

The 22-year-old said that he and his brother John Lucio and sister-in-law Michelle Lucio have already held protests in Texas since the stay was granted in order to continue to draw attention to his mother’s story and to call for a new trial.

“We’ve organised some more protests for the next couple of months,” he said.

“Nothing has changed – we’ve got the stay but we’re still going to share her story.”

That said, he is hopeful that the stay means his mother is one step closer to freedom.

Bobby Alvarez says the fight to save his mother goes on
Bobby Alvarez says the fight to save his mother goes on (Bobby Alvarez)

“[Her legal team] being able to present evidence that they weren’t able to use [in the first trial] like medical experts and false confession experts will make a big difference and will help,” he said.

He spoke of his gratitude to all of the people who had rallied behind his mother in recent months and urged people to continue to fight for justice.

“My message to everyone would be thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said.

“We appreciate all you have done. In the beginning it was just me, my brother and my sister-in-law and Sabrina [Van Tassel, the maker of documentary “The State of Texas vs. Melissa” which drew attention to her case].

“Her story has now gotten so big even from people who don’t even know my mom.”

Mr Alvarez, now 22, was just seven years old when his little sister Mariah died and his mother was sent to death row.

He previously told The Independent before the stay was granted how he “cried every night wanting my momma back” when she was arrested and he and his siblings were placed into foster care.

“Growing up I was always a momma’s boy so I was always wanting to be around her. I enjoyed her company. I remember she always played with me and made me laugh,” he said.

“It was very difficult then being put in foster care … you feel so alone and that no one is there for you.

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

Because of his young age, he couldn’t really understand what was going on at the time.

“I knew my sister had passed and that was why we were taken away from our parents but I didn’t grasp that we had been taken away because they were accusing them of it,” he said.

“I didn’t fully understand the situation at the time.”

Melissa Lucio holding her daughter Mariah while her daughter Adriana stands close by
Melissa Lucio holding her daughter Mariah while her daughter Adriana stands close by (AP)

But when he became old enough to understand, he read about his mother’s case and “knew” right away that his mother was innocent.

“Right away I never had a mindset that it was my mom [who killed Mariah],” he said.

“I knew my mom couldn’t have done it.”

When he then learned that her execution date was set, he “completely shut down”, he said.

Speaking after his mother’s execution date had come and gone, Mr Alvarez recalled the very moment that he learned her life had been spared.

He said he and his brother had just returned to their hotel room after visiting their mother that morning.

She was then scheduled to have a visit from her legal team before the sons would return for another visit later that afternoon.

“I was talking to a reporter who was asking me what we would do for Mother’s Day if my mom got out and my brother then said we got the stay,” he recalled.

“I was shocked and didn’t believe what I was hearing.

“I processed it and just started crying and hugging my brother and sister-in-law.”

He added: “For the last few days before, me and my brother had been trying to stay strong and think positively and not let ourselves think negatively. I think us thinking positively helped with the good news.”

The 22-year-old said he just wanted to “run” to his mother right away to share the news.

“She had told us before she got news that whatever decision would be made she was at peace with it,” he said.

“After we got the news, we immediately got into the car and ran to the prison to see her.”

Because Lucio is on death row, she is allowed no physical contact with visitors and so her sons could only see her through a pane of glass.

“We put our hands on the window and cried together,” recalled Mr Alvarez, adding that it “felt like a weight had been lifted”.

In a statement after the stay was granted, Lucio thanked God for saving her life and paid tribute to her late daughter Mariah who “is in my heart today and always”.

Rep Jeff Leach and Melissa Lucio prior to her scheduled execution date
Rep Jeff Leach and Melissa Lucio prior to her scheduled execution date (Rep Jeff Leach)

“I thank God for my life. I have always trusted in Him. I am grateful the Court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence,” she said in a statement.

“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.”

The 53-year-old also thanked everyone who has rallied behind her case.

“I am deeply grateful to everyone who prayed for me and spoke out on my behalf,” she said.

Lucio thanked God for saving her life and paid tribute to her late child who she said “is in my heart today and always”.

Lucio’s legal team have said that the only evidence to convict her was a false “confession” obtained as the pregnant and grieving mother was subjected to an aggressive five-hour interrogation by armed, male police officers in the hours after her daughter’s sudden death.

During the interrogation, Lucio asserted her innocence more than 100 times to the officers, according to the clemency application from her legal team.

But, because of her history as a victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence and the actions of the male officers who “manipulated” her, she was vulnerable to their “coercion”, her attorneys said.

After five hours, Lucio ended up admitting that she sometimes spanked Mariah and caused some bruising on her daughter’s body – an admission that prosecutors took as a confession for her murder.

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.

Child protective services records showed that Lucio had never been violent towards her children and all of Lucio’s surviving children begged Texas authorities not to kill their mother.

Lucio’s case drew attention from some of the most unlikely of places, with a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers calling for her execution to be halted.

More than half of all Texas state senators (both Democrats and pro-death penalty Republicans) demanded that her life be saved, with a group visiting her on death row in the days before her execution date.

Five jurors and one alternate who convicted Lucio and gave her the death penalty at trial also submitted declarations as part of her clemency bid saying they supported relief and would not have convicted her if they had seen the evidence they know now.

Kim Kardashian also amplified Lucio’s plight, telling her 72 million Twitter followers earlier this month that there were “many unresolved questions” around the case.

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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