(Brownsville, Texas) Attorneys for Melissa Lucio right this moment filed a movement to withdraw or modify her April 27, 2022 execution date. The submitting within the 138th Judicial District Court docket of Cameron County asserts that Melissa was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to loss of life for the unintentional loss of life of her two-year-old daughter, Mariah. Melissa, a Mexican-American from the Rio Grande Valley, is on loss of life row regardless of forensic and eyewitness proof that her daughter died from a head harm she suffered in a fall. Mariah’s loss of life was a tragic accident, not a homicide.
“Police instantly jumped to the conclusion that Mariah had been murdered and by no means thought of medical and scientific proof that would have established Mariah died after an unintentional fall,” stated Vanessa Potkin, Director of Particular Litigation on the Innocence Mission, and considered one of Melissa’s attorneys. “Whereas pregnant with twins, Melissa was subjected to a five-hour, late-night and aggressive interrogation till, bodily and emotionally exhausted, she agreed to say, ‘I assume I did it.’ Melissa suffered a lifetime of sexual abuse — beginning when she was solely six years previous — and home violence, which made her particularly weak to the police’s coercive interrogation ways.”
“Texas tore this household aside via the cruelty and injustice of Melissa’s wrongful conviction. Her kids, mom, and siblings have been traumatized by Melissa’s arrest, prosecution, and loss of life sentence. The State’s rush to set an execution date the place there exists a robust innocence declare is alarming,” stated Tivon Schardl, Chief of the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Defender for the Western District of Texas, and considered one of Melissa’s attorneys. “The State can also be ignoring Melissa’s proper to train her Roman Catholic religion and pending litigation in the US Supreme Court docket that instantly implicates this proper.”
“There may be an excessive amount of doubt to execute Melissa Lucio. Too many questions stay concerning the outcomes of the post-mortem, the conduct of interrogators, prosecutors, and courts, and Melissa’s psychological impairments,” stated Potkin. “Withdrawing the execution date in order that the District Lawyer, the courts, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the Governor can undertake a significant evaluation of Melissa’s innocence case, the coercive ways utilized in her interrogation, and her lifetime of sexual abuse and home violence is the commonsense place and crucial as a matter of primary equity.”
Melissa’s lifetime of abuse made her particularly weak to coercive interrogation ways that resulted in a false “confession.”
On February 15, 2007, as Melissa was transferring her household to a brand new residence, her two-year-old daughter Mariah fell down a steep flight of out of doors stairs which led to their residence. Mariah had a gentle bodily incapacity that made her unstable when strolling. She had fallen earlier than. Mariah appeared unhurt after the autumn, however two days later, she went down for a nap and didn’t get up. (Movement at pp. 6-7.)
Inside hours of shedding her daughter, grieving, numb with shock, and pregnant with twins, Melissa was hauled into an interrogation room the place armed, male cops stood over her, yelled and berated her, and accused her of inflicting her daughter’s loss of life.
Melissa repeatedly instructed the police that she didn’t kill her daughter. However the officers continued to threaten her and used coercive interrogation strategies which are infamous for his or her tendency to supply false confessions, significantly when utilized to weak individuals like Melissa that suffer from trauma. (Movement at pp. 8-11.)
After over 5 hours of interrogation, Melissa was emotionally and bodily exhausted. In response to a Texas Ranger’s repeated calls for, Melissa lastly acquiesced and stated, “I assume I did it.” (Movement at p. 8.)
On the time of her arrest, Melissa had no document of violence. Hundreds of pages of protecting service data and recorded interviews together with her kids—together with visits with the youngsters shortly earlier than and instantly after Mariah’s loss of life—present that Melissa was not abusive. (Movement at p. 30.)
Melissa’s conviction relies on two of the main causes of wrongful convictions of girls: false admissions made throughout police interrogation and defective forensic proof. Roughly 40% of exonerated girls had been wrongly convicted of harming kids or different family members of their care and practically 70% had been wrongfully convicted of crimes that by no means befell in any respect — occasions that had been accidents, deaths by suicide, and fabricated — in keeping with knowledge from the Nationwide Registry of Exonerations.
Melissa was particularly weak to the aggressive, intimidating, and psychological interrogation ways of the police and male authority figures.
When Melissa was simply six, two grownup male family members started sexually abusing her, preying on her when her mom was not dwelling. (Movement at p. 4.) As a younger teenager, she was raped once more.
At age 16, Melissa obtained married as a toddler bride. Though this marriage would in any other case be in opposition to the regulation in Texas, it was permitted as a result of Melissa’s mom gave consent. Melissa’s first husband was a violent alcoholic and drug supplier. He deserted Melissa after she gave beginning to their 5 kids. (Movement at p. 5.)
Melissa’s subsequent companion continued the cycle of violence and abuse. She had seven kids by her second husband. He beat Melissa, choked her, repeatedly raped her, and threatened to kill her. The household sunk deeper into poverty and was intermittently homeless. (Movement at pp. 5-6.) By the point Melissa was 35, she was battling bodily abuse, PTSD, dependancy, and poverty. She had given beginning to 12 kids and suffered a number of miscarriages.
These experiences, and years of supervision by protecting providers—for her incapacity to supply for the youngsters, by no means abuse—left Melissa weak and obliging within the face of authority figures and aggressive males. A Texas Ranger recklessly exploited Melissa’s vulnerabilities, first being soothing, then indignant, taking down her hair, then pushing her to repeat his demonstration of bodily abuse. (Movement at p. 10.)
“The State introduced no bodily proof or witness testimony establishing that [Melissa] abused Mariah or any of her kids, not to mention killed Mariah,” seven Fifth Circuit judges wrote. (Movement at pp. 18-19)
However in 2008, Cameron County District Lawyer Armando Villalobos was looking for reelection and determined to prosecute Melissa for capital homicide. Missing any bodily proof or eyewitness linking Melissa to Mariah’s loss of life, DA Villalobos’ group characterised Melissa’s acquiescence throughout the coercive interrogation as a “confession.” DA Villalobos was corrupt: he’s now serving a 13-year federal prison sentence for bribery and extortion.
At Melissa’s capital trial, Melissa’s attorneys tried to current professional witnesses who may have defined that Melissa’s response to the Ranger confirmed the outcomes of her traumatic experiences, not guilt. The DA objected, and the trial court docket dominated that this proof was “irrelevant.” That ruling disadvantaged Melissa of the one means she had of explaining why she took accountability though Mariah’s loss of life was an accident. (Movement at pp. 12-16.)
The trial court docket prohibited this testimony however allowed the Texas Ranger who coerced Melissa’s incriminating assertion to testify for the prosecution that Melissa’s slumped posture, passivity, and failure to make eye contact instructed him that she was responsible. (Movement at pp. 11-12.)
The jury didn’t hear Melissa’s protection or mitigating factors. Melissa’s trial attorneys weren’t ready for the penalty part of the trial. Lead counsel hamstrung his mitigation specialist and professional till weeks earlier than the trial started. Because of this, Melissa’s mitigation specialist by no means accomplished her investigation and the jury by no means realized concerning the extent of Melissa’s historical past of kid sexual abuse and home violence.
The jury by no means heard how Melissa’s historical past of trauma and abuse formed her reactions instantly following her daughter’s loss of life. With out that context, the jury convicted Melissa of capital homicide. Against this, Melissa’s companion, Mariah’s father, was sentenced to four years for endangering a toddler.
The omission of this mitigating proof was significantly damaging as a result of the prosecution had a weak case for loss of life. Melissa had no prior document of violence and the State’s sole proof of future dangerousness was the loss of life of Mariah and a previous conviction for driving beneath the affect.
Up to now, the courts’ palms have been tied.
A majority of judges have agreed that the exclusion of the psychologist’s professional testimony, which might have offered an evidence for Melissa’s acquiescence throughout the coercive interrogation, was mistaken, however determined that present federal regulation limits the courts’ means to intervene. (Movement at pp. 18-19.)
A panel of federal judges on the Fifth Circuit Court docket of Appeals held that Melissa was denied her constitutional proper to current a significant protection. In a unanimous three-judge opinion, the court docket dominated that offering an evidence for her incriminating statements throughout the interrogation, which she was not permitted to do, was essentially the most vital proof within the case since there was no bodily proof or witness testimony establishing that Melissa abused Mariah or any of her kids, not to mention killed Mariah.
Texas appealed to the total 17-member Fifth Circuit. Ten of 17 judges agreed that the exclusion of the psychologist’s testimony skewed the proof in opposition to Melissa, however three of the ten joined seven different judges in holding that the Anti-Terrorism and Efficient Demise Penalty Act (AEDPA) — a regulation that has been extensively criticized for unfairly curbing evaluation, together with of harmless individuals — barred aid for Melissa. Seven judges dissented from the opinion denying aid for Melissa with 4 writing separate dissenting opinions to specific their outrage. (Movement at pp. 18-19.)
The movement offers additional grounds for withdrawing or modifying Melissa’s execution date, together with the necessity for extra state court docket proceedings on her precise innocence, mental incapacity, newly-discovered false testimony, and testimony primarily based on “junk science;” the COVID pandemic has created obstacles to making ready claims and current a menace to the well being of people that could attend the execution; the execution date doesn’t enable Melissa a good alternative to current her case for clemency; ongoing litigation earlier than the Inter-American Fee on Human Rights; and ongoing litigation difficult Texas Division of Felony Justice guidelines that don’t enable a prisoner to have their religious advisor pray audibly or lay palms on them within the execution chamber, thus violating their non secular liberty. (Movement at pp. 2-3.)
A significant evaluation of Melissa’s innocence case is required earlier than an irreversible injustice happens.
A broad, various, and rising coalition, together with the Innocence Community, Cornell Regulation College Middle on the Demise Penalty Worldwide, home violence and battered girls’s organizations, former prosecutors, consultants in gender-based violence, and regulation professors have expressed assist for Melissa and have said that, as a survivor of sexual abuse and home violence, she was particularly inclined to creating a false confession or incriminating remarks throughout a coercive interrogation.
In accordance with the Demise Penalty Info Middle, since 1973, 186 individuals have been exonerated from loss of life row, together with 16 in Texas, and the variety of individuals whose lives had been taken earlier than they had been in a position to show their innocence is unknown.