Texas appeals court grants stay of execution for Melissa Lucio

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Monday granted a stay of execution for Melissa Lucio, who was scheduled to be executed on April 27 for the 2007 capital murder of her two-year-old daughter. The trial court will review new evidence to determine if she is innocent.

Lucio maintains that she was wrongfully convicted. Lucio’s daughter, Mariah, was found unresponsive and not breathing on February 17, 2007. Mariah had bite marks on her back, a broken arm, missing hair, and internal bruising. Lucio stated that Mariah sustained injuries when she fell down a staircase two days prior to her death, with no initial signs of serious injury. Lucio was accused of child abuse, and prosecutors alleged that Lucio caused the injuries resulting in Mariah’s death.

Lucio contends that her confession was coerced. Hours after Mariah’s death, police interrogated Lucio for over five hours. Lucio’s lawyers argue that Lucio asserted her innocence over 100 times during the interrogation. “I guess I did it,” police say Lucio eventually told them. The jury did not hear that Lucio was especially susceptible to the intense questioning because of her history of being physically, sexually, and emotionally abused.

In addition to the confession, physical evidence from the case is also at issue. Prosecutors relied on bite-mark analysis, which is now considered unreliable. Moreover, a state medical examiner’s testimony did not consider other causes for Mariah’s injuries.

Five jurors who sentenced Lucio to death have called for clemency in light of new evidence. “The fact that you can’t pinpoint what actually caused Mariah’s death means that [Lucio] shouldn’t be executed,” Johnny Galvan, one of the jurors who sentenced Lucio to death, wrote in her clemency application.

In response to the stay of execution, Lucio said: “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.”