Emotional moment Melissa Lucio learns she has been granted a stay of execution

Melissa Lucio was told the news that Wednesday’s execution had been halted in a prison phone call with Republican state Rep Jeff Leach

Rachel Sharp
Monday 25 April 2022 23:09 BST
Melissa Lucio sobs as she learns her life has been saved

An emotional audio clip has captured the moment Melissa Lucio learned that her life had been saved, after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted her a stay of execution with just two days to spare.

The Hispanic mother-of-14, who has spent the last 14 years on death row for a crime she says she didn’t commit, was issued a last-minute stay by the appeals court on Monday, halting her execution which was scheduled for 6pm CT on Wednesday.

The 53-year-old was told the news in a prison phone call with Republican state Rep Jeff Leach on Monday afternoon.

In the call, Lucio is overcome with emotion as she is heard gasping, sobbing and laughing all at once and crying “are you serious?”

“You haven’t heard the news yet?” asks Rep Leach at the start of the audio.

“No, what happened?” Lucio responds.

“The Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of your execution for Wednesday,” the lawmaker tells her.

Lucio is heard gasping before saying: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”

Her voice breaks and she is heard laughing and sobbing with emotion.

“When did this happen?” she cries.

“We just got word about 15 minutes ago,” he tells her.

“Oh my god!” she says, laughing. “That is wonderful! Oh my god!”

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

“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 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”.

State Rep Jeff Leach with Melissa Lucio
State Rep Jeff Leach with Melissa Lucio (Rep Jeff Leach)

In the stay order, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered the 138th Judicial District Court of Cameron Country to consider new evidence in her case put forward by her legal team.

The appeals court said it agreed that four claims made in Lucio’s habeas application should be reviewed by the trial court.

These claims are that: 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.

Lucio’s attorneys welcomed the court’s decision saying that it “did the right thing” while supporters across the country celebrated the news.

Kim Kardashian, who has rallied behind Lucio’s case in recent weeks, also tweeted that the stay was the “best news ever”.

“Best news ever!!! Melissa Lucio has been on death row for over 14 years for her daughter’s death that was a tragic accident,” she said.

“She is getting a new trial on her case and has been granted a stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.”

Lucio’s legal team had filed a 242-page application asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant a stay of execution back on 15 April.

Now the stay has been granted, her case will be reviewed by the trial court and Lucio’s legal team is expected to ask for a new trial.

Melissa Lucio’s son John Lucio and his wife Michelle Lucio at a hearing this month
Melissa Lucio’s son John Lucio and his wife Michelle Lucio at a hearing this month (AP)

The last-minute stay came moments before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was expected to decide whether or not Lucio should be granted clemency.

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

It would then have been up to Governor Greg Abbott to decide whether to act on the recommendation.

Following the appeals court ruling, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles released a one-line statement saying it had declined to grant Lucio clemency because of the stay of execution.

“Based on a stay of execution issued by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas on April 25, 2022 the Board of Pardons and Paroles will not be making a clemency recommendation at this time,” the statement read.

The statement did not provide any other details about the decision. It is not clear if the outcome would have been different had a stay not been issued.

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 the only evidence to convict Lucio was a false “confession” 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.

Melissa Lucio with some of her children in an undated photo
Melissa Lucio with some of her children in an undated photo (The Family of Melissa Lucio )

Last week, Lucio’s son Bobby Alvarez told The Independent that he had never doubted his mother’s innocence.

Mr Alvarez, now 22, was just seven when Mariah died and his mother was sent to death row and so 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 says.

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

But when he became old enough to understand, he read about his mother’s case and “knew” she couldn’t have done it.

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

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

Lucio’s case has drawn 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) had been demanding her life be saved, with a group visiting her on death row earlier this month.

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.

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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