Why Kim Kardashian and others are stepping up to stop the ‘tragic’ and

In 1863, Josefa “Chipita” Rodríguez, a poor Mexican single mother living in Confederate Texas, was wrongfully convicted of killing a white cotton trader with an ax worth over $600 in gold. Even though the gold was reportedly found near the body, Chipita was still sentenced to death.

The trial was overseen by a crooked jury, and Chipita never had much defense and no appeal. She spoke little English, and her last words before being hanged by the Nueces River were said to be, “No Guilty Soy (I’m not guilty).” She was considered for years the only legally hanged woman in Texas, before being officially absolved in 1985. Local legend has it that her ghost still haunts the area.

Fast forward 160 years, and criminal justice advocates say these ghosts have gone nowhere, and Texas is about to wrongfully execute another Latina mother, Melissa Lucio, under another mistaken sentence.

Lucio was sentenced to death in 2008 for the murder of her two-year-old daughter Mariah, who prosecutors say was physically assaulted. Lucio, 53, has insisted his daughter’s death was an accident, the result of an undiagnosed injury after Mariah fell down the stairs.

Now Lucio, along with a powerful group of bipartisan allies, as well as stars like Kim Kardashian, are rallying behind a clemency petition sent to Texas Governor Greg Abbott in March. Barring immediate intervention, Lucio is to be executed on April 27.

Ms Kardashian, who is no stranger to death penalty activism, called Mariah’s death a “tragic accident”, but one that should not lead to the death of another person.

“It’s stories like Melissa’s that make me speak so strongly about the death penalty in general and why it should be banned while innocent people are suffering,” Ms Kardashian told her millions of followers on Tuesday in a series of posts. urging them to sign a petition. asking the governor to stop the execution.

According to Lucio and his supporters, the case that sent the woman to death row was flawed from start to finish, starting with her alleged confession.

Hours after her daughter was found dead, Lucio, a survivor of physical and sexual abuse since the age of six, was interrogated for five hours by a group of armed police, who berated her as she claimed her innocence more than 100 times, according to her. leniency request. Lucio, who was grief-stricken, pregnant with twins at the time and exhausted from interrogation that dragged on until 3 a.m., finally appeared to admit to spanking and biting her child, which, according to prosecutors, proved his guilt in Mariah’s death.

Experts convened by Lucio’s defense say the script is a classic false confession by a vulnerable woman in dire circumstances, and that the death penalty has a long and sordid history of being used against people who have made false confessions or were wrongly convicted.

“Mariah’s death was a tragedy, not a murder,” said Professor Sandra Babcock, one of Lucio’s attorneys and director of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. The Independent. If Texas goes ahead with execution, it “shows that any innocent woman can be executed.”

In this undated photo, Melissa Lucio, an inmate on Texas death row, holds her daughter Mariah in her arms, while one of her other daughters, Adriana, stands next to them. Lucio is due to be executed on April 27 for the death of Mariah in 2007. Prosecutors say Lucio fatally beat his 2-year-old daughter, but Lucio has long denied this, saying Mariah died of injuries sustained during a fall down a staircase. Her lawyers say Lucio’s history of sexual and physical abuse has led her to make unreliable confessions. They hope to persuade the state Board of Pardons and Parole and Governor Greg Abbott to grant a stay of execution or commute his sentence. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Lucio’s family via AP)

(Melissa Lucio’s family)

The problems would not have stopped there. A coroner examining Mariah’s body was told before the examination even began that it was a homicide. The autopsy was performed with some of the interrogating officers in the room. The exam missed signs that Mariah had a fever, was dehydrated and other signs consistent with an accidental head injury and “did not review Mariah’s medical history to look for an explanation or contributing cause. to his injuries,” according to Dr. Janice. Ophoven, a pediatric medical examiner named in the leniency application.

Mariah’s family, as well as several jurors in the case, said they did not believe the sentencing, which came after a 2008 trial where jurors did not hear of the many times Lucio has pleaded his innocence, or of his relevant past as a victim of abuse. . During the course of the case, the state presented no physical evidence, testimony or information from Lucio’s long past record with state child welfare authorities indicating that she had ever been abusive. – because there was none.

“I had no idea that her long history of physical and sexual abuse left her vulnerable to false confessions when subjected to aggressive interrogation tactics on the night of her daughter’s death,” wrote Johnny Galvan Jr, a juror in the case, in a recent Houston Chronicle editorial. “No one took us through the interrogation to show us how many times she asserted her innocence (more than 100) or how she repeated the same words that the interrogators gave her. No evidence was presented at this topic and it would have mattered to me.

A federal appeals court in 2019 found the lawsuit deprived her of “her constitutional right to present a meaningful defense,” but the Supreme Court declined to intervene after an appeal by the state of Texas.

“She’s innocent,” Sonya Valencia, Lucio’s sister, said at a rally in February. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe in my sister’s innocence.”

The case has drawn bipartisan attention in typically conservative Texas. More than half of the state’s Republican House of Representatives have joined calls to stop the execution, either by commuting Lucio’s sentence or delaying it until more evidence can be considered.

Melissa Lucio before being convicted of murder and sent to death row

(Melissa Lucio)

“When we do everything we can to ensure that an innocent Texan is not put to death by the state, or even a potentially innocent Texan is not put to death by the state…we let’s strengthen our criminal justice system,” said GOP Rep. Jeff. Leach of Plano, who co-chairs the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus, said in March.

Others have argued the case and those like it show the double standard against women in the criminal justice system, who may be punished more harshly for domestic crimes due to entrenched ideas about gender roles.

“A crime is considered particularly heinous because it is committed by a woman,” said Mary Atwell, professor of criminal justice at Radford University. The Independent, in our in-depth investigation of women on death row. “Our societal expectation is for women to be non-violent, kind and gentle, so it’s easy to play with emotions that a woman who commits a violent crime is not a normal woman, that she’s against paleness and ‘not like us’.”

Melissa Lucio’s husband, also responsible for Mariah’s care, was not sentenced to death.

Although Lucio is the only Latina on Texas death row, the fact that the state is heading for the execution of a person of color comes as no surprise, experts say.

Texas has a long history of legal and extra-legal executions of Latinos through lynchings. The state has also executed by far the largest number of people, 573, in modern US history. According to Kristin Houlé Cuellar, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, a disproportionate number of those on death row in the state are people of color compared to the general population.

“What we are seeing, even though the use of the death penalty and new death sentences are decreasing, they are still disproportionately imposed on people of color,” she said. The Independent.

In this context, successful pardons and clemency petitions are extremely rare, she says. Governors George W Bush and Rick Perry each granted only one such request. Governor Abbott granted a request for commutation, in 2018, on a rare unanimous recommendation from state parole authorities in the case of Thomas Whitaker, a man who ordered the murder of his family, whose father pardoned and begged the authorities not to carry out the execution.

“Mr. Whitaker’s father, who survived the attempt on his life, passionately opposes the execution of his son,” the governor wrote at the time. “Mr Whitaker’s father insists he would be victimized again if the state put the last member of his immediate family to death.

It remains to be seen whether the governor and state pardon and parole officials take a similar view of Lucio’s family appeals.

But the big media attention surrounding the case, between Kardashian’s tweets and the 2020 documentary The State of Texas vs. Melissa on Hulu, could have an impact. A similar campaign helped get Oklahoma inmate Julius Jones, who has long maintained his innocence, off death row.

The energy might not end Texas’ generational grip on executions, but it could draw more attention to disparities in the state and shine a light on other death sentences to come that pose challenges. serious ethical questions.

On April 21, Texas is set to kill an elderly man named 78-year-old Carl Wayne Buntion. He established that he would be the oldest person ever executed in the state.

TCADP’s Kristin Houlé Cuellar called the planned execution “a crude show that serves no purpose”.

“He is a frail elderly person with serious health issues, he poses no threat to anyone,” she said, pointing to the man’s pending clemency petition to serve out his days in prison.

“There are so many people affected by this issue that are not necessarily seen or recognized,” she added. “At the end of the day, we have to remember that executions are an act committed by the government and that there are individuals who carry out these acts in the name of the people. It is the responsibility of the people to speak out and make their voices heard at all executions.

Unlike Chipita, the state now has a chance to right a potentially wrongful execution before it’s too late, not centuries later.

The independent and the non-profit association Responsible Business for Justice Initiative (RBIJ) launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States. The RBIJ has attracted over 150 well-known signatories to its Statement of Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high profile leaders like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson in this initiative and pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage. .

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