A mother of 14 convicted of killing her baby daughter will be spared execution this week after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said it has doubts about her guilt.
53-year-old Melissa Lucio was due to be executed on 27th April for the crime of killing her two-year-old daughter in 2007.
Lucio has always maintained that baby Mariah died because of an accident; the family lived in “extreme poverty” and were frequently forced to move. Lucio said that on one such occasion, baby Mariah was left alone unsupervised and was suddenly heard crying.
She was found at the bottom of a staircase with blood on her teeth. Lucio said she could see no other injury and went on with her day.
Two days later Mariah’s father called police when the baby stopped breathing; an autopsy showed that she had sustained bruising to her kidney and lungs.
Lucio was arrested and questioned for a period of over five hours; a Hispanic woman with little education, her lawyers maintain she was coerced by police into making a confession.
"They badgered, berated and yelled at her until she finally agreed to their demands and insistence that she was guilty of harming her child," Ms Babcock told journalists.
With no money to pay for a lawyer herself, Lucio was given a court-appointed attorney and her current legal team say that numerous mistakes were made during the course of the trial; Lucio’s children were not allowed to testify on her behalf at the trial, while authorities did not allow DNA testing to be used as evidence or allow a forensic pathologist to testify on Lucio’s behalf.
“Thank God for the miracle!”
Now the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has decided that there is sufficient doubt about Lucio’s guilt that she warrants a new trial - a decision supported even by a number of Republican lawmakers who staunchly support the death penalty.
You bet we do. And we did.
Grateful to my #txlege colleagues —Republicans and Democrats, Representative and Senators — who had the courage of their convictions and who spoke out and stood up. pic.twitter.com/7FO1W0avNA
— Jeff Leach (@leachfortexas) April 26, 2022
"I am grateful the Court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence. Mariah is in my heart today and always,” Lucio said in a statement issued after her execution was stayed.
“I am grateful to have more days to be a mother to my children and a grandmother to my grandchildren".
So thankful that a court finally stepped in today and stopped Melissa Lucio’s execution. The death penalty is always horrific, but executing a mother for a crime that never even happened? Melissa was coerced into making a false confession 15 years ago. May the truth come out now.
— Sister Helen Prejean (@helenprejean) April 26, 2022
John, Lucio’s eldest son, has campaigned non stop on his mother’s behalf and said he “would like to see our family together again."
Esperanza Treviño, Lucio’s mother, said, “Thank God for the miracle!”
While Kim Kardashian, who has frequently championed the cause of death row inmates in the past, described the stay as "the best news ever".
“Melissa Lucio has been on death row for over 14 years for her daughter’s death that was a tragic accident,” Ms Kardashian tweeted.
“She is getting a hearing on her claims for her case & has been granted a stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.”
Main image: A sign above a door indicating death row.