Crime

83 Texas Lawmakers Ask for Clemency for Melissa Lucio, 'Wrongly' Convicted of Killing 2-Year-Old Daughter

Advocates are hoping for clemency in the case of Melissa Lucio.
Advocates are hoping for clemency in the case of Melissa Lucio. Photo by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash
Hours after the death of her 2-year-old daughter in 2007, police hammered Melissa Lucio with questions. Law enforcement in South Texas alleged that she’d beaten her daughter to death; Lucio claimed she was innocent and that her toddler had fallen down the stairs accidentally.

But despite her repeating more than 80 times that she hadn’t hurt Mariah, police finally extracted what they believed was a confession after five hours of interrogation, according to The Innocence Project.

“I guess I did it,” Lucio said at 3 a.m., hoping it would mean that police would quit their questioning. Instead, she would be eventually convicted and sentenced to death on charges that she’d murdered Mariah.

Absent intervention, Lucio will be the first Latina to be executed in Texas. She’s scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 27. But now, a bipartisan group of 83 state representatives are urging Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant Lucio clemency or a reprieve.

With less than a month away from Lucio’s execution, calls are growing for the state to reexamine her case. Experts have cast doubt on the narrative that law enforcement laid out leading up to Lucio’s trial, and a recent Hulu documentary has renewed interest in her story.
In a news release, Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano underscored the doubt shrouding Lucio’s guilty verdict, calling into question whether a crime had occurred at all.

“She was convicted based on discredited forensics and the testimony of a medical examiner who didn’t follow protocol and put another innocent person in prison just two months after Melissa,” said Leach, who co-chairs the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus.

Abbott’s office hadn't returned a media request by publication time, and a spokesperson for the state's board of pardons and paroles declined to comment.

The Innocence Project is pushing back against Lucio’s death sentence, citing 225 anti-sexual assault and anti-domestic violence groups and more than a dozen Texas exonerees who have joined the effort. The organization also highlights statistics showing that more than a quarter (28%) of exonerated women were incorrectly convicted of harming kids in their care.

Advocates also say Lucio herself was a survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse, making her even more vulnerable to admit fault for a tragedy that she wasn’t involved with.

“It’s important that our names be added to this, and hopefully … we can stop this injustice.” – State Rep. Carl Sherman

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State Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, told the Observer that the death penalty should be abolished. Lucio’s case is compelling because of how troubling it was at every stage — from the investigation to the interrogation to the prosecution, he argued.

Moody, who also co-chairs the House’s caucus on criminal justice reform, called into question whether Lucio had competent counsel. On top of that, Lucio’s found faith in prison and isn’t the same person she was when she first landed behind bars.

“For someone like me who works on criminal justice reform issues both day in and day out in the Legislature, these are problems that we see in multiple cases,” Moody said. “If we can educate other members through a case like Melissa’s, I think it helps us hopefully save her life in the immediate future but also remedy bad policy going forward.”

The Marshall Project notes that just 17 women have been executed in the U.S. over the past 50 years, compared with over 1,500 men. Still, these female convicts are often greeted with greater attention and harsher sentences because of long-running sexist stereotypes, particularly regarding mothers.

Dallas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchía emphasized the importance of listening to Lucio’s family. A mother of 14, each of her children uniformly believe she is innocent and don’t want her to be executed, he said.

For some two decades, Anchía has worked with innocent Texans, pushing to help get exonerees back on their feet after wrongful incarcerations.

“I've seen firsthand that our criminal justice system has failed innocent Texans at scale, and so I am all for putting a moratorium on Melissa Lucio’s execution and really bringing the full force of state government to examine whether justice was done,” said Anchía, who chairs the House Committee on Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services.

DeSoto state Rep. Carl Sherman said Lucio’s “heartbreaking” case is important to him, as are others like it. The Democrat noted that it’s unfortunate we live in a time where there’s a rush to judgment and conviction: “It’s important that our names be added to this," he said, "and hopefully … we can stop this injustice.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter