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Melissa Lucio execution: White House won’t be drawn in on case as international pressure grows

Latest developments in Melissa Lucio case

Oliver O'Connell,Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Saturday 09 April 2022 13:19 BST
Melissa Lucio supporters rally in Dallas to stop execution

There are growing calls on Texas Governor Greg Abbot to grant clemency to Melissa Lucio who faces execution later this month. European nations, a juror, Kim Kardashian, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are among those pleading for Lucio’s life.

The 53-year-old domestic violence victim and mother of 14 has been on death row since her trial over the 2007 death of her two-year-old daughter.

Her lawyers argue she “falsely” admitted to killing Mariah after hours of intense police questioning and that she died from falling down a steep staircase outside their apartment in Harlingen, South Texas, and not from being beaten.

Worn down by her grief and abuse throughout her life, Lucio admitted to a crime she didn’t commit during the aggressive interrogation, her lawyers say.

On 18 October, the US Supreme Court denied a petition to hear Lucio’s case, paving the way for the state of Texas to set the date for her execution — to be carried out by lethal injection on 27 April.

Writing for The Independent, an expert in false confessions says Texas is executing an innocent woman in one of the most tragic cases they have seen in their career.


Which US states still have the death penalty, and who uses it the most?

Twenty-seven states across America still have the death penalty.

They are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky. Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Uta,h and Wyoming.

Find out more:

American death map: Which US states have capital punishment and who uses it the most?

Many object to the inconsistency with which the US death penalty is applied across the country

Oliver O'Connell6 April 2022 23:00

What can Governor Greg Abbott do to stop Melissa Lucio’s death sentence?

Governor Greg Abbott can grant a one-time, 30-day reprieve. He can grant clemency if a majority of the paroles board recommends it.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (The Monitor)

The board plans to vote on Lucio’s clemency petition two days before the scheduled execution, Rachel Alderete, the board’s director of support operations, said in an email to the Associated Press. A spokesperson for Governor Abbott’s office did not return an email seeking comment.

Mr Abbott has granted clemency to only one death row inmate, Thomas Whitaker, since taking office in 2015. Whitaker was convicted of masterminding the fatal shootings of his mother and brother. His father, who survived, led the effort to save Whitaker, saying he would be victimised again if his son was executed.

Lucio’s supporters have said her clemency request is similar in that her family would be retraumatised if she’s executed.

“Please allow us to reconcile with Mariah’s death and remember her without fresh pain, anguish, and grief. Please spare the life of our mother,” Lucio’s children wrote in a letter to Governor Abbott and the board.


Oliver O'Connell7 April 2022 00:30

What have Texas lawmakers said about Melissa Lucio’s case?

On 25 March, 83 Texas House members signed a letter asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to either cancel or commute Lucio’s impending execution.

Representative Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who describes himself as a conservative Republican and a death penalty supporter, led off a news conference calling the trial of Lucio a miscarriage of justice, Spectrum News 1 reports.

“I have never seen a more troubling case than the case of Melissa Lucio,” said Mr Leach, the chair of the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee. “The six of us, in conjunction with our House colleagues, are asking for the Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare her life and delay her execution, which is currently scheduled in about a month on April 27.”

Mr Leach was joined by Representatives Joe Moody, D-El Paso; Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston; Lacey Hull, R-Houston; Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; and James White, R-Hillister.

“Typically, Republicans have been hesitant or reluctant to talk about the question of the integrity of the death penalty, and I think that’s the wrong approach. I know it’s the wrong approach,” Mr Leach said. “I encourage legislators to ask the tough questions and to review the documents, the transcripts, the case file, to call us or call her attorneys, and to figure out where you are on this case, one way or another.”

His colleague Mr Moody, added: “It is easy to dismiss people like Melissa Lucio. In fact, the system is set up for us to forget her and treat her as less than human. That’s the way it’s been set up for years and years. For years, in this body, it was easy to ignore issues that touch the justice system because we think of those people as less than human and we throw them away. No more.”

Oliver O'Connell7 April 2022 02:00

What do Melissa Lucio’s lawyers say led to her ‘false’ confession?

Lucio, 53, would be the first Latina executed by Texas and the first woman since 2014. Only 17 women have been executed in the US since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on the death penalty in 1976, most recently in January 2021.

In their clemency petition, Lucio’s lawyers say that while she had used drugs, leading her to temporarily lose custody of her children, she was a loving mother who worked to remain drug-free and provide for her family. Lucio has 14 children and was pregnant with the youngest two when Mariah died.

(Provided by the family of Melissa Lucio)

Lucio and her children struggled through poverty. At times, they were homeless and relied on food banks for meals, according to the petition. Child Protective Services was present in the family’s life, but there was never an accusation of abuse by any of her children, according to Vanessa Potkin, one of Lucio’s attorneys who is with the Innocence Project.

Lucio had been sexually assaulted multiple times, starting at age six, and had been physically and emotionally abused by two husbands. Her lawyers say this lifelong trauma made her susceptible to giving a false confession.

In the 2020 documentary The State of Texas vs. Melissa, Lucio said investigators kept pushing her to say she had hurt Mariah.

“I was not gonna admit to causing her death because I wasn’t responsible,” Lucio said.


Oliver O'Connell7 April 2022 03:30

Revisiting the Julius Jones case where execution was called off

In November 2021, Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt called off the execution of Julius Jones, a Black death row inmate who has long maintained his innocence in the 1999 murder that put him behind bars. The announcement came just hours before Jones was set to die by lethal injection.

“After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” Governor Stitt said in a statement.

The Jones family, as well as supporters of the large “Justice for Julius” movement, were at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in the town of McAlester when they learned the news, the culmination of a two-decade campaign to free Julius.

Josh Marcus reported on the case for The Independent.

Oklahoma governor stops Julius Jones execution with last-minute decision

Jones will instead get a life sentence without the possibility of parole

Oliver O'Connell7 April 2022 05:01

Why people are rallying to stop the execution of Melissa Lucio in Texas

Supporters ranging from Kim Kardashian to Texas Republicans calling for halt to execution, Josh Marcus explains why the case is attracting so much attention.

Kim Kardashian and others are rallying to stop ‘tragic’ execution of Melissa Lucio

Supporters ranging from Kim Kardashian to Texas Republicans calling for halt to execution, Josh Marcus reports

Oliver O'Connell7 April 2022 06:30

Why is Melissa Lucio on death row?

Melissa Lucio was sentenced to death in 2008 after she was convicted of killing her two-year-old child Mariah one year earlier.

In February 2007, Mariah died from injuries which prosecutors claimed were caused by Lucio abusing her daughter.

Lucio, now 53, has always maintained her innocence and said that her daughter’s injuries were caused by a fall down the stairs two days earlier while the family was moving home.

The mother of 14, who is the first and only Hispanic woman on death row in Texas, has spent the last 14 years awaiting execution for a crime she says she didn’t commit.

Rachel Sharp reports on the details of the case.

Mother on death row for daughter’s death asks for clemency as execution date looms

Melissa Lucio was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing her two-year-old daughter Mariah

Oliver O'Connell7 April 2022 08:00

Breaking society’s expectations: Why some women end up on death row

Women are vastly outnumbered by men on death row across America. But experts say the small number who are sentenced to death usually break society’s expectations of a ‘good woman’. Melissa Lucio is one of them as Rachel Sharp explains.

How the ‘femme fatale’ stereotype is dooming women to death row in the US

Women are vastly outnumbered by men on death row across America. But experts say the small number who are sentenced to death usually break society’s expectations of a ‘good woman’, Rachel Sharp reports

Oliver O'Connell7 April 2022 09:30

Voices: I’m an expert in false confessions. Texas is executing an innocent woman

Gisli H Gudjonsson writes that the Melissa Lucio case is one of the most tragic she has come across in her 40-year career.

I’m an expert on false confessions. Texas is about to execute an innocent woman

This is one of the most tragic cases I’ve come across in my 40-year career

Oliver O'Connell7 April 2022 11:00

Why end the death penalty in the US?

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the 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.

Editorial: Why it is beyond time for the US to end the death penalty

Editorial: The Independent is adding its voice to a campaign backed by Sheryl Sandberg and Sir Richard Branson

Oliver O'Connell7 April 2022 12:30

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