US

Melissa Lucio, only Latina on Texas death row, pleads for clemency as execution looms

Lawyers for the only Latina on Texas death row filed a clemency petition on Tuesday ahead of her scheduled execution next month, presenting evidence they say points to her being wrongly convicted and four jurors at his trial are now questioning their guilty verdict.

The latest attempt to spare Melissa Lucio’s life comes 14 years after she was sentenced to death in a capital murder case involving the youngest of her dozen children at the time. Prosecutors in her trial say Lucio was physically abusive towards her daughter, Mariah, and the 2-year-old had bruises on her body, signs of a head injury and an untreated broken arm when she was taken to hospital in 2007 and died.

But supporters of Lucio, who has maintained her innocence, believe she was convicted on false medical evidence and police extracted a confession that became the linchpin of the trial.

Lucio, 53, is expected to die by lethal injection on April 27. The clemency brief does not ask for a full pardon, but rather a commutation of her death sentence to a lesser one, or at the very least, a 120-day stay of execution while she seeks a new trial.

“Mariah’s death was a tragedy, not a murder,” Lucio’s attorney, Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

β€œIt would be an absolutely devastating message if this execution took place,” she added. “It would send the message that innocence doesn’t matter.”

Gov. Greg Abbott and the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether they would intervene. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to comment on Tuesday.

Lucio’s legal team acknowledged that they face a difficult road as it is rare for the Pardons and Parole Board to hold a new hearing and recommend clemency in a capital case. The board will typically make its recommendation on a clemency filing within days of an execution date, said Tivon Schardl, federal public defender for Lucio.

Lucio, who had no criminal record, is one of six women on death row in Texas. The last time the state executed a woman was in 2014, and there are about 50 women on death row across the United States, according to the nonpartisan Sentencing Information Center. dead.

Lucio’s lawyers also filed a motion in February to have his execution date removed.

On Feb. 17, 2007, Lucio and her husband, Robert Antonio Alvarez, were moving to South Texas when Mariah fell down a flight of stairs, according to court documents.

According to Lucio’s legal team, the girl had a mild disability in which her feet turned sideways, so she was prone to tripping and had a history of falling. While her parents did not believe she had been seriously injured in the fall, two days later Mariah was unresponsive and paramedics took her to hospital where she was pronounced dead. Lucio was interrogated the same evening for more than five hours by detectives from the Texas Rangers.

In the clemency petition, Lucio’s attorneys included what they say is new forensic evidence that the jury did not hear. He also detailed how seven nationally recognized experts, including scientists and medical examiners, who reviewed the case concluded that she was convicted on the basis of “unscientific” and “false” evidence, and of an unreliable confession that was “essentially a mere ‘regurgitation’ of facts and the words the officers gave him.”

Lucio’s lawyers also said that Lucio was sleep deprived and pregnant with twins at the time of her interrogation, and given the length of time investigators questioned her, “the nighttime interrogation further increased the risk that she wrongly incriminates herself,” the leniency petition reads. .

Her lawyers said Lucio had been the victim of sexual abuse since she was 6 and domestic violence by two partners, which made her “extremely vulnerable and susceptible” to questioning by male police officers.

“Melissa was a victim long before she was charged. We have no doubt that Melissa’s case would be handled differently today,” said Daisy Lopez, director of operations for Friendship of Women, a social service organization in Brownsville, in Texas.

“Based on current research and literature showing how trauma survivors cope with violence, Melissa was denied the opportunity to access community resources and specialized victim services that would have changed Melissa’s fate. and her children,” Lopez said, adding, “That’s not how we would support survivors of violence today.”

Armando Villalobos, the Cameron County prosecutor in Lucio’s capital murder trial, was sentenced in 2014 to 13 years in federal prison for his part in a bribery and extortion scheme.

One of Lucio’s sons, Bobby Alvarez, said his execution would be a trauma he could not overcome.

“If she were executed…I would no longer be able to function,” he said in a statement attached to the clemency petition.

Alvarez was 8 years old when Lucio was sentenced. “She’s my mother… I beg you not to execute her,” he added.

Texas, which has the busiest death chamber in the country, currently has three more executions scheduled for 2022 in addition to Lucio. One that was scheduled for March has been halted by the state Court of Criminal Appeals, while a number of complaints filed by the death row inmate are being considered.

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