TEXAS: A Mexican-American woman, 52, who was scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, wins more time for the court to consider new evidence.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted a stay of execution for Melissa Lucio, the Mexican-American woman who was scheduled to be executed within 48 hours, directing a lower court to consider new evidence of her innocence in the death of her two-year-old daughter Mariah.
The order was issued by the court on Monday, as the clock was ticking on Lucio’s transfer to the death chamber. She would have been Texas’s first Hispanic woman executed.
As Wednesday’s scheduled execution date approached, calls for a stay of execution to allow time for new scientific evidence of her innocence to be reviewed reached a fever pitch. The outpouring of emotion in response to her impending execution rivalled that of Troy Davis, an African American man executed by Georgia in 2011 despite serious doubts about his guilt.
New evidence presented by Lucio’s legal team in a 266-page petition suggested that her toddler daughter’s murder had never occurred. Mariah died after falling down a steep flight of stairs at Lucio’s rental home, according to medical and eyewitness evidence.
In a statement, Lucio expressed gratitude to the Court of Criminal Appeals for allowing her to “live and prove my innocence.” Mariah will always be in my heart.”
Sandra Babcock, a Cornell law professor and member of Lucio’s legal team, stated that the court’s decision paved the way for a new trial, which would allow a jury to hear evidence that was not presented at her original trial in 2008. Five of the twelve jurors from that trial have stated that if they had known what is now known about the case, they would have made a different decision.
“Melissa’s life is important,” Babcock said. Melissa’s voice and experiences have never been valued as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and intimate partner violence, and she has been locked away for the past 15 years. The Court’s decision indicates that it is willing to hear Melissa’s side of the story.”
“Medical evidence shows that Mariah’s death was consistent with an accident,” said Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project, who also represents Lucio. Because no murder occurred, no juror would have voted to convict Melissa of capital murder if the State had not used false testimony.”
Jeff Leach, the Republican lawmaker who led the push in the Texas House for a stay of execution, expressed delight at the news, saying it would ensure “justice for Melissa, Mariah, and the entire Lucio family.”
Previously, Leach told the Guardian in an interview that the prosecution’s failures in Lucio’s case had shaken his faith in the death penalty. He stated that her treatment had “given me great pause and made me reconsider whether this is the way we want to do things in the state of Texas.”
Leach has been at the forefront of Texas lawmakers’ efforts to persuade authorities to postpone the execution. He arranged for a letter to the pardons board to be signed by 80 House members, 32 of whom are Republicans. A similar letter was sent by 20 Texas senators, eight of whom are Republicans.
The lawmakers noted in their letter that prosecutors treated Lucio differently than her husband, who was also responsible for Mariah’s care. Lucio had no prior history of violence, and her children claimed she had never been abusive to them; her husband, on the other hand, had a history of assault but is now free after serving only a four-year sentence for child endangerment.
The level of bipartisan agreement, with more than half of the legislature supporting calls for a stay, is extremely rare in such a polarised state.