‘Melissa’s life matters’: Campaigners react as Texas court pauses Melissa Lucio execution

Case remanded to trial court to consider new evidence

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Monday 25 April 2022 20:01 BST
Melissa Lucio's son says 'I don't want to see my mom die'
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Campaigners erupted in joy on Monday with the news that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had temporarily paused the planned execution of death row inmate Melissa Lucio.

“Just received word the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted a stay of Melissa Lucio’s execution - remanding vital issues back to the trial court and securing justice for Melissa and for Mariah and the entire Lucio family. Praise God!” wrote Jeff Leach, a Republican state representative in Texas, on social media, one of a number of legislators who has gotten behind the bipartisan innocence movement around the case.

“I’m glad that Melissa Lucio’s execution has been stayed!” said Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. “There’s strong evidence that she did not commit the crime she was charged with.”

Lucio, who was scheduled to be put to death this Wednesday, was given the death penalty for the 2007 death of her daughter Mariah, though advocates argue the mother of 14 was wrongly implicated in the death and the victim of a coercive police investigation.

“Melissa’s life matters,” Professor Sandra Babcock, director of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and one of Melissa’s attorneys, said on Monday in a statement. “The Court’s decision paves the way for Melissa to present evidence of her innocence that should have been heard by the jury that condemned her to death fourteen years ago. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and intimate partner violence, and now locked away for these past 15 years, Melissa’s voice and experiences have never been valued.”

Within a day of her daughter being found dead, Lucio was interrogated for seven hours by a group of armed policemen, who berated her as she claimed her innocence over 100 times, according to a clemency application her attorneys have filed with Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Lucio, who was grief-stricken, pregnant with twins at the time, and exhausted as questioning stretched to 3am, eventually appeared to admit to spanking and biting her child, which prosecutors alleged proved her guilt in Mariah’s death.

No witnesses or physical evidence directly tied Lucio to the death, and members of her family insist she was never violent with them. They also say they saw Mariah’s siblings harming her around the time of the death.

However, these claims were not heard during Lucio’s original trial, as her lawyer declined to include testimony from the family.

Activists also took issue to the stark disparity in sentencing in the case, with Lucio facing a death sentence while her husband at the time only got a few years iun prison.

In its order pausing the execution, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the original trial court in south Texas should review Lucio’s claims related to false testimony, new medical evidence in the case, and the state witholding potentially exculpatory information.

The execution could still go forward if the trial court remains unconvinced. Texas parole officials are considering an application for clemency from Lucio, and Governor Greg Abbott has the power to call off the death sentence even if the execution is reinstated.

Though once an obscure story, the case has attracted national attention in recent years.

The acclaimed 2020 documentaryThe State of Texas vs Melissa, now on Hulu, goes in depth into the questions surrounding Lucio’s controversial death sentence.

“Whether you are for or against the death penalty, one thing I’m convinced of is no American wants an innocent person to be executed,” director Sabrina Van Tassel told The Independent. “You have to make noise. Melissa has become a symbol against wrongful convictions.”

Kim Kardashian also shined a light on the case.

“It’s stories like Melissa’s that make me speak so loud about the death penalty in general and why it should be banned when innocent people are suffering,” she wrote on social media earlier this month.

Eventually, nearly half of the jurors involved in the case and a majority of the Repubilcan Texas legislature said they opposed the death sentence in Lucio’s case.

National anti-death penalty advocates like Sister Helen Prejean also celebrated the stay. The capital punishment critic praised the decision, writing, “Alleluia!” on social media on Monday.

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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