Texas court stays execution of mother of 14: lawyers

·3-min read
Melissa Lucio (C), pictured on April 8, 2022, bowed her head in prayer during a meeting with a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers at Gatesville Correctional Facility, Texas (AFP/Jeff Leach) (Jeff Leach)

A court in Texas on Monday stayed the execution of Melissa Lucio, a mother of 14, who was due to be put to death on April 27 for the 2007 murder of her two-year-old daughter after a controversial trial.

Pregnant with twins at the time, Lucio was immediately suspected by police after her daughter Mariah's body was found at the family home covered in bruises.

Lucio, 53, claims a confession was coerced by police during a five-hour interrogation and that the toddler's death was actually caused by an accidental fall down a staircase.

Her case has been championed by the Innocence Project, which fights for the wrongly convicted, and reality TV star Kim Kardashian, who has urged Texas Governor Greg Abbott to grant clemency for Lucio.

"The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has just issued a Stay of Execution for Melissa Lucio" and ordered a lower court to consider new evidence, her lawyers said in a statement.

Lucio, who was due to be executed by lethal injection, said: "I am grateful the court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence. Mariah is in my heart today and always."

Mariah had a physical disability which made her unsteady while walking, according to Lucio's defense, and which could have explained her fall.

The defense also argued that the bruises could have been caused by a blood circulation disorder.

"Melissa is entitled to a new, fair trial," Lucio's lawyer Tivon Schardl said in a statement.

None of Lucio's children had accused her of being violent.

Her life marred by both physical and sexual assault, drug addiction and financial insecurity, Lucio was immediately suspected by police and questioned at length just hours after Mariah's death.

After saying "that she hadn't done it nearly a hundred times," at 3:00 am, Lucio made a "completely extorted" confession, according to Sabrina Van Tassel, director of the hit documentary "The State of Texas vs. Melissa," which came out in 2020.

The documentary sparked widespread interest in the case, causing a movement to coalesce around Lucio.

Along with tweets to her legions of followers from Kardashian, Lucio also won support from some 80 Texas lawmakers, including Republicans -- traditionally defenders of capital punishment -- who demanded authorities call off the execution.

Lucio would have been the first Hispanic woman to be sentenced to death in Texas -- the US state that has executed the most people in the 21st century and the most women, putting six to death.

It is rare for women to be executed in the United States, with only 17 put to death since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

"It would have been a historic injustice for her to be executed for a crime that she didn't commit -- a crime that, in fact, never happened," executive director of the non-profit Texas Defender Service, Burke Butler, told AFP.

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