Our website is made possible by displaying online advertisements to our visitors. Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our website.

Texas parole board to decide today on clemency for mom-of-14 facing execution over death of daughter

Texas parole board to decide today on clemency for mom-of-14 facing execution over death of daughter 2

A Texas woman who claims she falsely pleaded guilty to killing her two-year-old daughter in 2007 will learn today if the parole board wants to proceed with her controversial execution.

Melissa Lucio, 53, is set to be executed Wednesday for the death of Mariah, one of her 14 children, in Harlingen, a city of about 75,000 in Texas’ southern tip.

Advertisement

Her legal team claims her confession was forced in a grueling five-hour interrogation carried out just hours after she found out her daughter had died, while pregnant with twins, and came after she denied the allegations more than 100 times. 

Lawyers from the Innocence Project have filed a clemency application to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles which is set to consider her case today by 1.30pm CT. 

They will make a recommendation to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott who has until Wednesday 6pm to intervene in what would be the first Latina ever executed by Texas and the first woman the state has put to death since 2014. 

Advertisement
Melissa Lucio (pictured center) bows her head in prayer during a session with State Representative Jeff Leach in prison this month

Melissa Lucio (pictured center) bows her head in prayer during a session with State Representative Jeff Leach in prison this month

She is set to be executed Wednesday for the death of Mariah (pictured on her lap alongside daughter Adriana)

She is set to be executed Wednesday for the death of Mariah (pictured on her lap alongside daughter Adriana)

If they do not recommend clemency, all he can do is postpone the execution by 30 days, during which her legal team will have to reconsider their options.

Advertisement

Separately, Lucio’s legal team are pursuing two last-ditch attempts to spare her life.

They filed several motions in the Texas Supreme Court of Appeals which could stop the death sentence at any point before Wednesday.

Lucio has been in custody since 2007, maintains that Mariah died from injuries sustained during a fall down a flight of stairs even though she confessed to hurting Mariah during investigations

Lucio, who has been in custody since 2007, maintains that Mariah died from injuries sustained during a fall down a flight of stairs even though she confessed to hurting Mariah at the time 

Advertisement

The Cameron County District Attorney’s office is also yet to rule on a motion to withdraw the execution which had been filed in February. 

Her lawyers say new evidence shows that Mariah’s injuries, including a blow to the head, were caused by a fall down a steep staircase, and nearly half of the jurors who sentenced her have called for her execution to be halted and demanded a retrial.

Lawmakers and celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, an advocate for criminal justice reform, and Amanda Knox – an American who was convicted of murdering a British student in Italy and whose conviction was overturned – have rallied to Lucio’s cause.

Advertisement

A bipartisan group of 100 Texas lawmakers have been pushing for the parole board and governor to spare her life.

Last week, a few of them joined Lucio for a prayer session in prison. 

Prosecutors, though, maintain that the girl was the victim of child abuse.

Advertisement

In addition to the blunt-force injury to her head that was determined to have killed her, Mariah’s body was found to have bruises, scratches, and a bite mark on her back, leading investigators to believe that Mariah had been killed, and suspecting Lucio of the crime. 

Lucio’s attorneys say her capital murder conviction was based on an unreliable and coerced confession that was the result of relentless questioning and her long history of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. 

Lucio, now 53, was convicted of killing her two-year-old daughter, Mariah, in 2007 (pictured with son John)

Lucio, now 53, was convicted of killing her two-year-old daughter, Mariah, in 2007 (pictured with son John)

Advertisement
Three hours into a late-night interrogation Lucio confessed to police that she had spanked and bitten her daughter - an admission that became the backbone of the case against her

Three hours into a late-night interrogation Lucio confessed to police that she had spanked and bitten her daughter – an admission that became the backbone of the case against her

‘This new evidence shows that Ms. Lucio was convicted of a crime that never occurred,’ the 242-page writ of habeas corpus says. 

‘Ms. Lucio asserted her innocence more than 100 times, but police refused to accept any response that was not an admission of guilt – suggesting to Ms. Lucio that the interrogation would not stop unless she told them what they wanted to hear,’ the filing reads. 

Advertisement

They say Lucio wasn’t allowed to present evidence questioning the validity of her confession.

Her lawyers also contend that unscientific and false evidence misled jurors into believing Mariah’s injuries only could have been caused by physical abuse and not by medical complications from a severe fall.

‘I knew that what I was accused of doing was not true. My children have always been my world and although my choices in life were not good I would have never hurt any of my children in such a way,’ Lucio wrote in a letter to Texas lawmakers.

Advertisement
The Innocence Project say that Lucio's lifelong history as a victim of sexual and domestic abuse made her particularly susceptible to confessing to things she never did

The Innocence Project say that Lucio’s lifelong history as a victim of sexual and domestic abuse made her particularly susceptible to confessing to things she never did

Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, whose office prosecuted the case, has said he disagrees with Lucio’s lawyers’ claims that new evidence would exonerate her. 

Prosecutors say Lucio had a history of drug abuse and at times had lost custody of some of her 14 children.

Advertisement

During her interrogation Lucio initially maintained that Mariah had fallen down the stairs a few days before she became unresponsive, but after about three hours she admitted to spanking and biting Mariah.

‘What do you want me to say? I’m responsible for it,’ Lucio told Texas Rangers when they pressed her on the bite mark.

The statement became the backbone of the state’s case against Mariah, with prosecutors using what they characterized as an admission of child abuse to connect Lucio directly to her daughters death. 

Advertisement

Though Lucio never admitted to actually killing Maria or causing fatal-harm, the Cameron County jury found the abuse admissions adequate to find Lucio guilty and deserving of the death penalty.  

During her 2007 trial, the judge did not allow a psychologist to testify about why Lucio's past might compel her to make false confessions

During her 2007 trial, the judge did not allow a psychologist to testify about why Lucio’s past might compel her to make false confessions

But advocates of Lucio say that the confession was clearly made and coerced under duress, and that Lucio’s longtime history as a victim of sexual and domestic abuse made her especially susceptible to confessing to things she never did – a point which was not made at Lucio’s trial because the judge did not allow a psychologist to testify on the subject. 

Advertisement

During a sometimes contentious Texas House committee hearing on Lucio’s case this month, Saenz initially pushed back on requests to use his power to stop the execution, before later saying he would intervene if the courts didn’t act.

‘I don’t disagree with all the scrutiny this case is getting. I welcome that,’ Saenz said.

Armando Villalobos was the county’s district attorney when Lucio was convicted in 2008, and Lucio’s lawyers allege that he pushed for a conviction to help his reelection bid. 

Advertisement

In 2014, Villalobos was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for a bribery scheme related to offering favorable prosecutorial decisions.

More than half the members of the Texas House and Senate have asked that her execution be halted. 

A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers traveled this month to Gatesville, where the state houses female death row inmates, and prayed with Lucio.

Advertisement

Five of the 12 jurors who sentenced Lucio and one alternate juror have questioned their decision and asked she get a new trial. And Lucio’s cause also has the backing of faith leaders and was featured on HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.’

Lucio’s family and supporters have been traveling throughout Texas and holding rallies and screenings of a 2020 documentary about her case, The State of Texas vs. Melissa.

Abbott has granted clemency to only one death row inmate since taking office in 2015. 

Advertisement

Abbott commuted a death sentence to life without parole for Thomas ‘Bart’ Whitaker, who was convicted of fatally shooting his mother and brother. Whitaker’s father was also shot but survived and led the effort to spare his son’s life.

Lucio's case has received widespread attention, and in March nearly 90 bi-partisan Texas lawmakers voiced their support for a stay of Lucio's execution until evidence can be reviewed

Lucio’s case has received widespread attention, and in March nearly 90 bi-partisan Texas lawmakers voiced their support for a stay of Lucio’s execution until evidence can be reviewed

It’s rare in the U.S. for a woman to be executed, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that opposes capital punishment. 

Advertisement

Women have accounted for only 3.6 per cent of the more than 16,000 confirmed executions in the U.S. dating back to the colonial period in the 1600s, according to the group’s data.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, there have been 17 women executed throughout the nation, according to the data. 

Texas has put more women to death – six – than any other state. Oklahoma is next, with three, and Florida has executed two.

Advertisement

The federal government has executed one woman since 1976. Lisa Montgomery, of Kansas, received a lethal injection in January 2021 after the Trump administration resumed executions in the federal system following a 17-year hiatus. 

The Justice Department has halted executions again under the Biden administration.

After reading about Lucio’s case, Kardashian tweeted: ‘[Lucio] has been on death row for over 14 years for her daughter’s death that was a tragic accident.

Advertisement

‘Her 2-year-old daughter Mariah fell down a flight of stairs and two days later passed away while taking a nap.

‘After she called for help, she was taken into custody by the police. [Lucio] is a survivor of abuse and domestic violence herself and after being interrogated for hours and falsely pleaded guilty.

‘She wanted the interrogation to be stopped, but police made her words out to be a confession.’

Advertisement

‘She is scheduled to be executed on April 27 in Texas,’ the reality star added, as she urged the public to sign a petition by the Innocent Project in an effort to press Governor Abbott to stop Lucio’s execution.

Advertisement

About The Author