Lawmakers from both parties gathered on Thursday to hold a press conference in favor of delaying or stopping the execution of Melissa Lucio, a 53-year-old woman convicted of murdering her two-year-old daughter.
“I have never seen a more troubling case than the case of Melissa Lucio,” said Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican.
In 2007, paramedics responded to a call about Lucio’s two-year-old daughter, Mariah, who was unresponsive and not breathing in their home. The family said their daughter fell down the stairs days earlier. Mariah suffered from a physical disability that made her unstable when walking, but Cameron County authorities believed she had been abused and after a 5-hour interrogation the mother confessed. Lucio’s lawyers say the confession was coerced.
“The system literally failed Melissa Lucio in every single term,” Leach said. “And I am going to do everything that I possibly can in the coming days, in every way possible, legal, constitutional — and maybe in some ways we haven’t thought of yet — to delay, to prevent Melissa’s execution because I believe that’s what is in the best interest of all Texans in our system of criminal justice.”
Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat, said Lucio converted to catholicism and was no longer the same person when she began her sentence.
“Melissa is living proof of the transformative power of faith,” Moody said. “And as a state that professes a foundation in God, we should reconsider the wisdom of seeking a punishment that exceeds God’s arm.”
Moody said the case shows that the death penalty process cannot be trusted in Texas because it is inconsistent and filled with human error.
So far, 81 house members have signed onto a letter opposing the execution and asking for clemency.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) said Lucio’s interrogation occurred in the middle of the night, when she was pregnant with twins and hours after her daughter’s death.
“Melissa is a person, we learned, with low IQ who suffers from PTSD and depression, owing for a lifetime of domestic abuse and trauma — factors that numerous studies have confirmed makes her especially vulnerable to coercion and accepting blame for a crime she didn’t commit,” Thompson said.
Thompson said Melissa denied killing her daughter 80 times over the course of the interrogation before finally accepting guilt.
Dallas Democrat Rep. Rafael Anchía noted that all of Mariah’s family has asked for clemency.
“The criminal justice system, ladies and gentlemen, is a human system, and by definition is a fallible system,” Anchía said.
Rep. James White (R-Hillister) said details in the case were troubling and said the attorneys involved in the case were not qualified.
“They made the decision to move to trial without having all the specialists and experts weigh in, which probably would have added some context to this situation,” White said. “For some reason the attorneys did not call the other children as witnesses that could have attested to any record of abuse or gross neglect.”
In 2019, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion granting Lucio another trial because Lucio’s right to present a complete defense was violated. In 2021, the same court reinstated the death sentence after prosecutors successfully appealed.
Lacey Hull, a Houston Republican said this may be the most questionable and concerning death penalty case Texas has seen in quite some time.
“As policy makers we have an obligation to stand up and speak out, especially those who consider ourselves to be pro-life, pro-woman and pro-law-and-order,” Hull said.
“As you’ve heard today, as awful as precious little Mariah’s death was and is, and as much as we want justice for Mariah, the facts imply do not support any conclusion that Miss Lucio committed capital murder and is deserving of the ultimate punishment by the state of Texas,” Hull said.
“CPS had been involved with the family repeatedly after Melissa suffered violence at the hands of her husband,” Hull said. “A simple review of the CPS records in this case strongly suggests that Melissa, albeit imperfect, was actually a loving, protective nurturing mother.”
“Her own children, all of them, talk about how much their mom loved them and how she never harmed any of them,” Hull said.
Original photo: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at email@example.com