Melissa Lucio: Texas lawmakers meet and pray with woman on death row, pledging to help save her life

‘We’re more resolute and committed than ever to fighting over the next three weeks to save her life’ says Rep Jeff Leach

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Thursday 07 April 2022 23:12 BST
Texas lawmakers want to stop execution for mother of 14

A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers visited Melissa Lucio on death row as part of an effort to top her execution amid doubts about whether she fatally beat her two-year-old daughter.

State Representatives Jeff Leach, a Republican, and Joe Moody, a Democrat, led the group on Wednesday to the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas, where the state houses women on death row. Lucio faces execution on April 27.

“We are blessed to have the opportunity to meet with Melissa, to pray with her, to spend time with her and we’re more resolute and committed than ever to fighting over the next three weeks to save her life,” Mr Leach told The Associated Press in an interview after the meeting.

Lucio was convicted of capital murder for the 2007 death of her daughter Mariah. Prosecutors say Mariah was the victim of child abuse and there is no evidence that would acquit Lucio of her daughter’s death.

But Lucio’s lawyers say jurors never heard forensic evidence that would have explained Mariah’s various injuries were actually caused by a fall days before her death. They also say Lucio wasn’t allowed to present evidence questioning the validity of her confession, which they allege was not actually a confession and was given under duress after hours of relentless questioning.

Among those who have doubts about Lucio’s guilt are a bipartisan group of 83 Texas House members led by Mr Leach and Mr Moody. They sent the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott a letter last month asking them to grant an execution reprieve or commute her sentence.

A spokesperson for Mr Abbott’s office did not immediately return an email from the Associated Press seeking comment.

Mr Leach said he and six other lawmakers toured the prison for about two hours before meeting privately with Lucio for about 40 minutes, even praying with her.

The lawmakers encouraged Lucio and talked with her about their efforts to stop her execution, Mr Leach said.

“It was just a sweet, sweet time together, very powerful,” he added.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Mr Moody tweeted: “She prayed with us & hugged us; today might be the last genuine human contact she has before the state kills her.”

Joining the effort to halt the execution of Lucio are several jurors from her trial who now doubt the conviction and reality star Kim Kardashian who on Wednesday shared a letter from Lucio’s children to Governor Abbott.

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

Some of the most compelling information regarding the case came in an op-ed published on Sunday in The Houston Chronicle, in which juror Johnny Galvan Jr said he believes jurors weren’t given all the information needed to make a proper decision and he now feels “deep regret” for sentencing Lucio to death.

“The idea that my decision to take another person’s life was not based on complete and accurate information in a fair trial is horrifying. There are so many problems in this case that I believe she must not be executed,” Mr Galvan wrote.

The appeals to save Lucio have been ongoing for several years.

In 2019, a three-judge panel of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Lucio’s conviction, ruling she was deprived of “her constitutional right to present a meaningful defence”.

However, the full court in 2021 said the conviction had to be upheld for procedural reasons.

Lucio’s attorneys had asked the appeals court to recall its decision but the request was denied last week.

However in a footnote in the brief decision, 5th Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham called Lucio’s case “a systemic failure, producing a train of injustice which only the hand of the Governor can halt”.

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 197. The most recent execution of a woman occurred in January 2021.

With reporting from the Associated Press

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