Melissa Lucio is facing execution in Texas on April 27 for the 2008 murder of her 2-year-old daughter Mariah. If the state does not intervene, she will be the first Hispanic woman executed in Texas. However, calls are mounting for another review of Lucio’s case. Lucio has long insisted that she is innocent and that her daughter died accidentally, falling down a steep flight of stairs. Now, with a new documentary raising attention about her case and the lack of evidence behind her conviction, advocates are trying to save her life.
According to the Innocence Project, Lucio fled an abusive home in the Rio Grande Valley when she was 16. She was the mother of 12 children and pregnant with two more when her youngest child Mariah died. That same night, police interrogated her for five hours. She says the interrogation amounted to a coerced confession. “I guess I did it,” she finally told them. “I’m responsible.”
Those two sentences are the only evidence prosecutors presented at the trial. Thousands of pages of Child Protective Services records and hours of interviews with her other children found no evidence that she had ever been violent or abusive. A court appointed attorney withheld evidence that bolstered Lucio’s claims that she had been forced to confess. But then-Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos pushed her conviction through anyway. Today, he himself is in jail for bribery and extortion.
In 2019, Lucio’s conviction was overturned by the by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, but the state of Texas appealed, and a court of appeals reversed the 2019 grant of relief by a vote of 10 to 7. Last year, a group of former prosecutors and reform advocates urged the Supreme Court to review Lucio’s case, but to no avail.
“This is as clear a case of injustice as you’ll ever see: Melissa Lucio faces imminent execution for a capital murder that never happened,” said Tivon Schardl, a member of her appellate defense team, in a statement emailed to the Texas Observer. “Melissa, an innocent woman, faces execution in less than 100 days because a corrupt prosecutor relied on a statement coerced by an overzealous Texas Ranger who badgered a traumatized woman into making a false confession.”
A documentary about Lucio’s case called The State of Texas vs Melissa has garnered enormous acclaim, especially in the director’s native France, where the death penalty is outlawed.
Now, the Innocence Project is mounting one final, desperate plea to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, asking them to review Lucio’s case. They are asking others to sign a petition demanding a new investigation.