In 2007, Melissa Lucio’s 2-year-old daughter, Mariah, died after a tragic, unintentional fall down a flight of stairs. However Ms. Lucio and her household by no means acquired to mourn the lack of her youngest daughter as a result of, inside hours of her passing, they have been swept up right into a nightmare that has lasted greater than 14 years and torn their household aside.
Any probability Ms. Lucio and her household needed to grieve and heal was stolen by the corrupt prosecutor whose workplace tried her case and the State of Texas when she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her daughter and sentenced to dying in 2008. Ms. Lucio is scheduled to be executed on April 27, 2022, although a number of judges have concluded her trial was unfair.
Ms. Lucio’s conviction displays a sequence of injustices, failures of the felony authorized system, and the devastating impression of generational trauma. Her conviction and dying sentence for a criminal offense that by no means occurred compounded that trauma. And, if Texas rushes forward with the execution of an innocent mother, the irreversible injustice will fracture her household even additional and make sure the ache and trauma skilled up to now will likely be handed on to a different technology.
Right here’s what you could learn about Melissa Lucio’s case.
Who’s Melissa Lucio?
Ms. Lucio is a survivor of lifelong, repeated rape and home violence, who grew up in a Catholic, Mexican-American household residing beneath the poverty line in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. When Ms. Lucio was simply 6, two grownup male family started sexually abusing her, preying on her when her mom was not dwelling. It was the beginning of a sample of sexual abuse and rape that continued for a number of years.
Ms. Lucio endured abuse all through her childhood and into her teenage years, till, determined to flee her scenario, she grew to become a baby bride at 16. Though she was beneath the authorized age of marriage in Texas, Ms. Lucio’s mom consented to her little one’s marriage.
As an alternative of serving to her to flee the trauma of her childhood, Ms. Lucio’s husband perpetuated the cycle of abuse. He was violent towards her and in addition abused alcohol and bought medicine. Nonetheless a minor and unable to go away the abusive marriage, Ms. Lucio was trapped and developed a substance use downside. She had 5 kids together with her husband earlier than he left the household, abandoning the younger mom to fend for herself.
She finally had 9 kids, together with Mariah, together with her subsequent companion. He, too, was abusive, repeatedly raping her, choking her, and threatening to kill her. Ms. Lucio gave beginning to their youngest kids collectively — twin boys — whereas in jail and needed to give them up for adoption as a consequence of her wrongful incarceration. The remainder of her kids have been break up up and despatched to dwell with family or positioned within the custody of the state.
Although her household lived in poverty and skilled homelessness at instances, Ms. Lucio was a loving and caring mom, regardless of struggling to offer financially for her household.
She is at present certainly one of six girls on Texas’ dying row, and the one Latina girl sentenced to dying within the state’s historical past.
What occurred on the day of Mariah’s dying
- On Feb. 15, 2007, Mariah fell down a flight of stairs whereas the household was within the strategy of shifting properties. The toddler had a light bodily incapacity — her ft have been turned to the aspect — making her unstable whereas strolling and susceptible to tripping. Mariah didn’t seem injured after the autumn, however two days later, Ms. Lucio put her daughter down for a nap, and the kid didn’t get up.The kid was taken to the hospital the place she was declared lifeless. Speeding to judgement, detectives took Ms. Lucio in for interrogation that very same evening.
- Within the interrogation room, officers berated and intimidated Ms. Lucio, who was pregnant and nonetheless reeling from the lack of her little one, for 5 hours. Analysis has proven that survivors of sexual abuse and violence, like Ms. Lucio, are extra susceptible to falsely confessing beneath such coercive situations.
- Throughout her interrogation, detectives used coercive strategies recognized to lead to false confessions, together with “maximization and minimization” — exaggerating the energy of or bluffing about proof and potential expenses and whereas additionally downplaying the seriousness of the scenario and even implying a extra lenient cost.
- Ms. Lucio repeatedly maintained her innocence throughout the interrogation. When proven a photograph of her daughter, sobbing, she mentioned, “I want it was me.” However the interview continued till 3 a.m. and solely stopped after Ms. Lucio — bodily and emotionally exhausted — acquiesced to the detectives’ calls for, saying “I suppose I did it” within the hopes that they might finish the interrogation.
A miscarriage of justice and systemic failure
- Cameron County District Lawyer Armando Villalobos sought the dying penalty in Ms. Lucio’s case, probably as a result of he was in search of re-election on the time and thought that such a “win” would earn him votes. Mr. Villalobos was convicted of bribery and extortion in 2014, and is at present serving a 13-year federal jail sentence.
- Mr. Villalobos argued that Ms. Lucio abused her daughter resulting in her dying, however 1000’s of pages of interviews and data from Little one Protecting Providers present that Ms. Lucio’s kids by no means mentioned she was violent with any of them.
- Roughly 70% of ladies exonerated since 1989 have been wrongfully convicted of crimes that by no means occurred — that means occasions finally decided to be accidents, deaths by suicide, and fabricated crimes — in keeping with knowledge from the Nationwide Registry of Exonerations.
- Ladies, particularly moms, accused of harming a baby additionally are usually perceived extra negatively than males and even demonized within the media. Practically one in three feminine exonerees have been wrongly convicted of harming a baby, according to the data from the National Registry of Exonerations. In Ms. Lucio’s case, the district lawyer’s workplace sought a homicide conviction and the dying penalty, and the kid’s father was convicted of the lesser cost of endangering a baby and sentenced to 4 years in jail.
- Ms. Lucio’s protection attorneys weren’t ready for the penalty section of her trial and mounted a woefully insufficient protection. And shortly after her trial, her protection lawyer joined the district lawyer’s workplace.
- The prosecution distorted Ms. Lucio’s conciliatory assertion, telling the jury it was a confession. As a result of her protection lawyer failed to completely examine her background, the jury by no means realized about her in depth historical past as a survivor of sexual violence and home abuse. When the protection sought to current expert testimony about how her experiences would have shaped her response to an aggressive interrogation, the district lawyer objected, and the courtroom excluded the testimony. These consultants had interviewed Ms. Lucio and her household and concluded that Ms. Lucio’s response to her interrogation was per the habits of a sufferer of abuse. Whereas Ms. Lucio was not allowed to current this proof, which was central to her protection and defined her habits, a Texas Ranger who interrogated Ms. Lucio was allowed to testify that her posture and lack of eye contact have been proof of her guilt.
- A panel of federal judges on the Fifth Circuit Courtroom of Appeals agreed in a unanimous three-judge opinion that Ms. Lucio was denied the appropriate to current “a significant protection.” And in a subsequent determination following an enchantment from the state, 10 out of the Fifth Circuit’s 17 judges agreed that the exclusion of the psychologist’s testimony skewed the proof towards Ms. Lucio.
- The seven judges who dissented agreed that the State Courtroom’s rejection of the psychology and psychological well being consultants’ testimony and Ms. Lucio’s protection was “irrational” and expressed outrage, however concluded the courtroom couldn’t grant aid due to the strict limits of federal court review. On behalf of the seven dissenting judges, Choose Catharina Haynes, wrote “The State offered no bodily proof or witness testimony establishing that Lucio abused Mariah or any of her kids, not to mention killed Mariah … The jury was disadvantaged of key proof to weigh: that’s the level.”
- A neurosurgeon and a pathologist specializing in little one abuse deaths have already disputed Mariah’s autopsty and reason behind dying. There is just too a lot doubt on this case, and Ms. Lucio and her household deserve the reality and to heal.
The system has failed Ms. Lucio all through her life. At 53, having survived a lifetime of struggling and trauma, Ms. Lucio is now poised to be executed by the State of Texas, an irreversible injustice which can be sure that the cycle of hurt and harm that Ms. Lucio and her kids have already skilled will likely be perpetuated and handed on to the following technology. Ms. Lucio’s dying for a criminal offense that didn’t happen can solely deepen the ache and struggling of her household.
The district lawyer, the courts, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the Governor should undertake a significant evaluate of Melissa’s innocence case — together with the coercive ways utilized in her interrogation and her lifetime of sexual abuse and home violence — earlier than finishing up an irreversible injustice.
When you’ve got skilled sexual abuse and need to communicate to somebody, name the free and confidential Nationwide Sexual Assault hotline (1-800-656-HOPE or 1-800-656-4673). It’s also possible to obtain assist through online.rainn.org, which is out there 24/7.