Fight to Save Texas Mom on Death Row Gets 'Contentious'

Lawyers say Melissa Lucio was wrongfully convicted of killing 2-year-old daughter
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2022 12:46 PM CDT
Updated Apr 13, 2022 12:58 AM CDT
Texas Lawmakers Seek Clemency for Mom on Death Row
This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Melissa Lucio.   (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)

Update: During what the AP describes as a "somewhat contentious hearing" Tuesday, members of a Texas House committee pushed prosecutors to stop a controversial execution scheduled for April 27 in the state. The Cameron County district attorney suggested he didn't have the power to ask a judge to recall the death warrant for Melissa Lucio, then later said there's no reason for him to do such a thing, since appeals are still pending in her case. "I believe the (Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) will issue a stay and that is the way the system works," Luis Saenz said. He did later say he would work to delay Lucio's execution if an appeals court didn't move to stop it, so that pending legal claims in her case could be reviewed. Our original story from April 7 follows:

Texas inmate Melissa Lucio is weeks away from becoming the first Hispanic woman to be executed in the state's history—but scores of state lawmakers are among those calling for clemency. Lucio was sentenced to death in 2008 for the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Mariah. Her lawyers, however, say jurors were never shown forensic evidence suggesting the girl's injuries could have been caused by a fall down stairs outside the family's apartment two days before her death, CBS reports. Lawyers say Lucio was coerced into confessing during a relentless five-hour interrogation that began just two hours after her daughter's death. She asserted her innocence more than 100 times during questioning.

Lawyers say Lucio—a mother of 14 who was pregnant with twins at the time of Mariah's death—was abused as a child and by two husbands. In a clemency petition, experts on false confessions said Lucio was extremely vulnerable to coercion during the interrogation because of a "cognitive deficit, history of significant trauma and corresponding mental health issues," USA Today reports. Four jurors in the case support the clemency petition, including Johnny Galvan Jr., who wrote in a Houston Chronicle op-ed that he wishes he could take back his vote. He says jurors were never told that there was a medical explanation other than child abuse for Mariah's injuries.

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Lucio is scheduled to die on April 27. Some 83 members of the Texas House of Representatives—a bipartisan majority—sent Gov. Greg Abbott and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles a letter last month calling for a reprieve or a commutation of Lucio's sentence. One of them was Republican Rep. Jeff Leach. "As a conservative Republican myself, who has long been a supporter of the death penalty in the most heinous cases ... I have never seen a more troubling case than the case of Melissa Lucio," Leach says. He joined a group of lawmakers who met with Lucio Wednesday in the unit that holds the state's female death row inmates. (More Texas stories.)

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