Last week, lawyers for Melissa Lucio submitted a clemency application to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. And a bipartisan majority of legislators in the Texas House asked state officials to halt her execution.
Lucio is scheduled to be executed on April 27, despite evidence that she was wrongly convicted for the accidental death of her two-year-old daughter, Mariah, in 2007.
In a news release, Lucio’s defense team reveals that the application “includes declarations from seven nationally recognized experts, including scientists and forensics experts, who have reviewed the evidence and concluded that Melissa’s conviction was based upon (1) an unreliable “confession” that is essentially a mere “regurgitation” of facts and words officers fed to her during the five-hour interrogation, and (2) unscientific, false evidence that misled the jury into believing that Mariah must have been killed by physical abuse, when the evidence is actually consistent with a conclusion that Mariah died from medical complications after a fall.”
In addition, the application includes declarations from four jurors expressing their grave concerns about evidence withheld from them at Lucio’s trial and stating that they would support relief. An alternate juror, who heard the evidence, but did not join deliberations, also submitted a declaration supporting relief for Lucio.
Lucio, now 53, was pregnant with twins and already the mother of 12 children at the time of Mariah’s death. She had no record of violence, and thousands of pages of reports by Child Protective Services had never indicated that she abused her children. Nevertheless, pregnant with twins, she was subjected to a five-hour, late-night aggressive interrogation by armed, male investigators that didn’t end until she broke down and told them what they wanted to hear: “I guess I did it. I’m responsible.”
Armed with her false confession, then-Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos, up for reelection, prosecuted Lucio for capital murder. (Villalobos is now serving a 13-year federal prison sentence for bribery and extortion.)
Lucio’s trial attorneys were reportedly ill-prepared for the penalty phase of her trial. As a result, the jury never heard the extent of Lucio’s history of child sexual abuse and domestic violence and how it affected her behavior after Mariah’s death. The jury found Lucio guilty of capital murder.
A unanimous three-judge panel of federal judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Lucio was denied her constitutional right to present a meaningful defense. But the Fifth Circuit denied her appeal, although seven judges dissented from the opinion, with four writing separate dissenting opinions to express their outrage.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Lucio’s appeal in October.
Hundreds of Texas anti-domestic violence groups, faith leaders, Latino organizations, exonerees of wrongful convictions, and Melissa’s children also filed letters urging the Board and the Governor to grant Lucio clemency.