Melissa Lucio, 52, is due to be executed Wednesday in the death of Mariah’s 2-year-old daughter in Harlingen, a town of about 75,000 in southern Texas.
Her lawyers say new evidence shows Mariah’s injuries, including a blow to the head, were caused by a fall from a steep staircase, and many lawmakers and celebrities such as criminal justice advocate Kim Kardashian and Amanda Knox – a An American woman who was convicted for the murder of a British student in Italy and whose conviction was overturned – have gathered for the case of Lucio. Prosecutors, however, claim that the girl was a victim of child abuse.
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Lucio’s lawyers have filed several lawsuits to stop her execution. She also has a leniency appeal before the Texas Council of States and the Parole Board, which is due to hear her case Monday. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could also play a role in deciding Lucio’s fate. If killed, Lucio would be the first Latina to ever be executed by Texas and the first woman the state has killed since 2014.
Here’s what you need to know as Lucio’s execution approaches:
WHAT ISSUES DISCUSSED IN THE CASE?
Lucio’s lawyers say her conviction for the murder was based on an unreliable and forced confession that was the result of relentless interrogation and a long history of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. They say Lucio was not allowed to present evidence that calls into question the validity of her confession.
Her lawyers also argue that unscientific and false evidence misled jurors into believing that Mariah’s injuries could only be caused by physical abuse and not by medical complications from a serious fall.
“I knew what I was accused of was not true. My children were always my world and although my choices in life were not good, I would never harm any of my children in this way,” Lucio wrote in a letter. to Texas lawmakers.
Cameron County Attorney Luis Saenz, whose office prosecuted the case, said he disagreed with claims by Lucio’s lawyers that new evidence would acquit her. Prosecutors say Lucio had a history of drug abuse and at times had lost custody of some of her 14 children.
During a controversial Texas panel hearing on Lucio’s case this month, Shange initially rejected demands that he use force to stop the execution, before later saying he would intervene if the courts did not they were acting.
“I do not disagree with all the control this case receives. I welcome it,” Saenz said.
Armando Villalobos was the county attorney when Lucio was convicted in 2008, and Lucio’s lawyers claim he pushed for a conviction to help re-elect him. In 2014, Villalobos was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for a bribery plot related to offering favorable prosecutions.
WHO REQUESTS TO STOP LUCIO’S EXECUTION?
More than half of the members of the Texas House of Representatives and Senate have called for an end to its execution. A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers traveled to Gatesville this month, where the state hosts female death row inmates, and prayed with Lucio.
Five of the 12 jurors who convicted Lucio and one alternate juror challenged their decision and asked for a new trial. Lucio also aims to have the support of religious leaders and appeared on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
Lucio’s family and supporters travel all over Texas and organize rallies and screenings for a 2020 documentary on her case, “Texas vs. Melissa.”
WHERE ARE THE EFFORTS TO STOP HER EXECUTION?
Appeals seeking to halt Lucio’s execution are pending in state and federal courts.
The Texas Council of Countries and Prisons is considering a request to either commute her death sentence to a 120-day moratorium.
Any decision by the release board to commute her sentence or grant her suspension would require Abbott’s approval. The governor, who has pardoned only one death row inmate since taking office in 2015, could also issue a unilateral 30-day suspension. Abbott commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment without parole for Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, who was sentenced to death for shooting his mother and brother. Whitaker’s father was also shot, but survived and led the attempt to save his son’s life.
HOW OFTEN DOES WOMEN BE EXECUTED?
It is rare for a woman to be executed in the United States, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that opposes the death penalty. Women accounted for only 3.6% of the more than 16,000 confirmed executions in the United States dating back to the colonial period of 1600, according to the group.
Since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 17 women have been executed across the country, according to the data. Texas has killed more women – six – than any other state. Oklahoma is next, with three, and Florida has executed two.
The federal government has executed a woman since 1976. Lisa Montgomery of Kansas received a lethal injection in January 2021 after the Trump administration resumed executions in the federal system after a 17-year hiatus. The Department of Justice has again suspended executions under the Biden government.
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