Melissa Lucio: 9 Facts You Should Know About This Innocent Woman Facing Execution

In 2008, Melissa Lucio was sentenced to death in Texas for the murder of her 2-year old daughter Mariah, who died two days after a tragic fall down a flight of stairs. In shock

The post Melissa Lucio: 9 Facts You Should Know About This Innocent Woman Facing Execution appeared first on Innocence Project.

In 2008, Melissa Lucio was sentenced to death in Texas for the murder of her 2-year old daughter Mariah, who died two days after a tragic fall down a flight of stairs. In shock and grieving the loss of her baby — the youngest of her 12 children at the time — Ms. Lucio was taken into police custody and immediately blamed for her daughter’s death. 

Last month, the State of Texas scheduled Ms. Lucio’s execution for April 27, for a crime that never occurred. On Feb. 8, attorneys for Ms. Lucio filed a motion to withdraw or modify her looming execution date, but Ms. Lucio’s life is still in jeopardy.

Read and share these key facts before Texas makes the irreversible mistake of killing an innocent woman. 

1. Mariah’s death was a tragic accident not a murder. 

Mariah fell down a flight of stairs while the family was moving homes on Feb. 15, 2007. The toddler had a mild physical disability that made her unstable while walking and prone to tripping. Two days later, she took a nap and didn’t wake up.

Instead of taking the steps to learn about Mariah’s health history and investigating the causes of her injuries, authorities immediately jumped to the conclusion that she had been murdered and, through a coercive interrogation, pressured Ms. Lucio to make a false statement.

Nearly 1 in 3 exonerated women were wrongly convicted of harming children or other loved ones in their care and nearly 70% were wrongly convicted of crimes that never took place at all — events that were accidents, deaths by suicide, or fabricated — according to data from the National Registry of Exonerations.

2. Melissa has maintained her innocence for 14 years. 

Ms. Lucio has maintained her innocence on death row for more than 14 years. Mariah had fallen before this tragic accident and appeared uninjured after the fall. Ms. Lucio repeatedly said she did not harm Mariah during the interrogation until coerced by police officers.

3. The state presented no evidence that Melissa abused any of her children.

Thousands of pages of Child Protective Services records show that Ms. Lucio’s 12 children never said she was violent with them. No physical evidence showed otherwise.

“The State presented no physical evidence or witness testimony establishing that Lucio abused Mariah or any of her children, let alone killed Mariah,” Judge Catharina Haynes wrote on behalf of the seven dissenting judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. 

“The jury was deprived of key evidence to weigh: that is the point.”

Ms. Lucio struggled at times to provide for her family, but was a caring mother, who did her best given her incredibly difficult circumstances.

4. Melissa is a survivor of a lifetime of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Ms. Lucio is a survivor of life-long, repeated sexual assault and domestic violence. She was sexually abused by a family member beginning at the age of 6.

Ms. Lucio endured abuse throughout her childhood and into her teenage years. At 16, she became a child bride to escape. However, Ms. Lucio’s husband perpetuated the cycle of abuse. Still a minor and unable to leave the abusive marriage, Ms. Lucio was trapped and developed a substance use problem. Her husband later abandoned her and their five children.

Ms. Lucio had nine children, including Mariah, with her next partner, who was also abusive, repeatedly raped her, and threatened to kill her.

5. Melissa was coerced by police the same night her daughter died.

Detectives jumped to judgment and just two hours after Mariah died, took Ms. Lucio in for questioning. During the interrogation, officers berated and intimidated Ms. Lucio, who was pregnant and in shock from the loss of her child, for five hours. Research has shown that survivors of sexual abuse and violence, like Ms. Lucio, are more vulnerable to falsely confessing under such coercive conditions.

Ms. Lucio repeatedly maintained her innocence during the interrogation. But officers continued to interrogate and intimidate her, only stopping when she gave in to their demands saying, “I guess I did it,” at 3 a.m. to get them to end the interrogation.

6. The jury did not hear Melissa’s defense. 

The jury never learned about the extent of Ms. Lucio’s history of child sexual abuse and domestic violence and how it shaped her reactions immediately following her daughter’s death. The trial court prohibited this testimony but allowed the Texas Ranger who coerced Ms. Lucio’s incriminating statement to testify for the prosecution that Ms. Lucio’s slumped posture, passivity, and failure to make eye contact told him that she was guilty. 

Without that context, the jury convicted Ms. Lucio’s of capital murder based on her statement and the Texas Ranger’s testimony about her distant behavior during the interrogation.

The omission of this crucial evidence was particularly damaging because the prosecution had a weak case for capital murder, and an even weaker case for a death sentence. Ms. Lucio had no prior record of violence.

 

7. Cameron County D.A. Armando Villalobos was running for re-election and seeking a “win.” He is now serving a 13-year federal prison sentence for bribery and extortion.

Lacking solid physical evidence, Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos presented Ms. Lucio’s conciliatory statement to the jury as a “confession” to homicide and sought the death penalty, a “win” he thought would help him get re-elected. Today, the former district attorney is serving a 13-year federal prison sentence for bribery and extortion.

8. Melissa’s wrongful conviction has torn her family apart.

Ms. Lucio, who has 14 children, has suffered a grave injustice. Her children, who ranged from 2 to 15 at the time of her arrest, were still in the precious moments of growing up when the death of their sister and their mother’s wrongful incarceration devastated them. Ms. Lucio gave birth to her youngest children — twin boys — while in jail and had to give them up for adoption due to her wrongful incarceration. The rest of her children were split up and sent to live with relatives or placed in the custody of the state. 

“Texas tore this family apart through the cruelty and injustice of Ms. Lucio’s wrongful conviction. Her children, mother, and siblings have been traumatized by Ms. Lucio’s arrest, prosecution, and death sentence,” said Tivon Schardl, chief of the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Defender for the Western District of Texas, and one of Ms. Lucio’s attorneys. 

The criminal legal system failed her and her family, and if it executes her, it will continue to do so.

9. Speak out before Texas makes an irreversible mistake — time is running out. 

The Cameron County’s new district attorney, the courts, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Gov. Abbott must undertake a meaningful review of Ms. Lucio’s innocence claim, the coercive tactics used in her interrogation, and the tragic circumstances of Mariah’s accidental death, before an irreversible injustice occurs.

  1. Add your name to stop the execution.
  2. Make sure everyone on Twitter knows her name: Tweet now
  3. Use this social media toolkit to spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The post Melissa Lucio: 9 Facts You Should Know About This Innocent Woman Facing Execution appeared first on Innocence Project.


This content originally appeared on Innocence Project and was authored by Alicia Maule.


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