(Austin, Texas) Attorneys for Melissa Lucio at this time filed a 242-page software for a writ of habeas corpus asking the Texas Court docket of Prison Appeals to remain her scheduled April 27, 2022 execution and vacate her conviction and dying sentence. The submitting represents the primary time the courts could have the chance to think about the brand new scientific and professional proof exhibiting that Melissa’s conviction was based mostly on an unreliable, coerced “confession” and unscientific false proof that misled the jury. Melissa has been condemned to die for the unintentional dying of her daughter, Mariah.
“If the jury had heard proof in regards to the coercive techniques utilized in Melissa’s interrogation and the medical proof exhibiting that Mariah’s explanation for dying was in step with an accident, they might have discovered there was no homicide, Melissa would have been acquitted, and she or he can be making ready for Easter mass along with her kids, not going through execution. She deserves a brand new trial,” stated Vanessa Potkin, Director of Particular Litigation on the Innocence Undertaking and considered one of Melissa’s attorneys.
The petition additionally particulars how the police investigation and prosecution have been contaminated by gender bias. “Police focused Melissa as a result of she didn’t match their picture of how a grieving mom ought to behave. They used interrogation techniques that replicated the dynamics of home violence, that advised her she had no alternative however to acquiesce to their insistence that she take duty for Mariah’s accidents. New linguistic evaluation exhibits that whereas the police handled Melissa as a suspect, they handled her companion like an harmless sufferer—regardless that he was additionally Mariah’s caretaker, and had a historical past of intra-familial violence. He’s now a free man,” stated Professor Sandra Babcock, Director of the Cornell Heart on the Loss of life Penalty Worldwide, and considered one of Ms. Lucio’s attorneys.
“We all know that corruption ran deep within the District Lawyer’s Workplace below Armando Villalobos. We owe it to Mariah and her siblings to verify a brand new panel of twelve jurors hears all of the proof of their mom’s innocence,” stated Tivon Schardl, Capital Habeas Unit Chief of the Federal Defender for the Western District of Texas and considered one of Melissa’s attorneys.
Melissa Lucio’s First Subsequent Utility for Writ of Habeas Corpus will be seen right here: https://tinyurl.com/2paxuabx
Melissa Lucio case abstract
Melissa Lucio, a Mexican-American who’s going through execution in Texas on April 27, 2022, was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to dying after her daughter, Mariah, sustained accidents from an unintentional fall. Though Melissa repeatedly advised the police that she didn’t kill her daughter, they continued to interrogate her for 5 hours till she agreed, falsely, to take duty for a few of her daughter’s accidents.
Melissa suffered a lifetime of sexual abuse and home violence, which made her particularly weak to the police’s coercive interrogation techniques. Melissa had no historical past of violence, however her husband, Mariah’s father, was discovered responsible of kid endangerment and sentenced to four years, regardless that he had a history of assaultive conduct.
Struck by the sentencing disparity and grave doubts in regards to the reliability of Melissa’s conviction, a bipartisan group of greater than 80 members of the Texas Home of Representatives and a bipartisan group of 20 members of the Texas Senate oppose Melissa’s execution. Tons of of Texas anti-domestic violence teams, Baptist, Evangelical and Catholic leaders, Latino organizations, exonerees of wrongful convictions, and Melissa’s kids are urging the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Abbott to grant Melissa clemency.
Melissa’s execution would trigger additional struggling for her kids who misplaced their sister 15 years in the past. It could even be the primary execution of a Latina in the US for the reason that resumption of the dying penalty within the Seventies.
Clemency software cites new proof supporting Melissa’s innocence declare
On March 22, 2022, Melissa’s attorneys submitted an software for clemency to the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles which incorporates the declarations of seven nationally acknowledged specialists, together with specialists in false confessions and medical and forensic specialists, who’ve reviewed the proof and concluded that Melissa’s conviction was based mostly upon:
(1) an unreliable “confession” that’s primarily a mere “regurgitation” of details and phrases officers fed to her through the 5 hour interrogation, and
(2) unscientific, false proof that misled the jury into believing that Mariah will need to have been killed by bodily abuse, when the proof is definitely in step with a conclusion that Mariah died from medical issues after a fall.
The applying additionally paperwork that Melissa asserted her innocence greater than 100 instances over 5 hours of the coercive interrogation.
Along with the brand new forensic analyses, the clemency software consists of declarations from 5 jurors stating they’ve grave concerns about evidence withheld from them at Melissa’s capital trial and would assist reduction. A further juror, an alternate who heard the proof, however didn’t be a part of deliberations, additionally submitted a declaration supporting reduction for Melissa.
The District Lawyer, the courts, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the Governor should undertake a significant assessment of Melissa’s case. That assessment can solely occur if the execution date is withdrawn or stayed.
A rush to judgment after a tragedy
On February 15, 2007, as Melissa was shifting her household to a brand new residence, Mariah fell down a steep outside staircase resulting in their condo. After the autumn, Mariah’s accidents didn’t seem life-threatening, however two days later she fell asleep on her dad and mom’ mattress and didn’t get up. Mariah had bodily disabilities that made her strolling unstable and she or he had a historical past of falls, together with a latest fall at a preschool program the place she misplaced consciousness. On the time of her arrest, Melissa had no historical past of abusing her kids or violence of any variety. (App. at pp. 2, 10-12.)
Two hours after Mariah’s dying, Melissa — grieving and in shock — was hauled into an interrogation room the place, for over 5 hours, armed, male law enforcement officials stood over her, yelled at her, threatened her, berated her parenting, and repeatedly refused to simply accept something lower than an admission to inflicting her daughter’s dying. Melissa was particularly weak to the aggressive, intimidating, and psychologically manipulative interrogation techniques of the police and male authority figures as a result of her historical past of abuse, trauma, low IQ, and abnormally excessive ranges of suggestibility and compliance. (App. at pp. 15-17.)
After hours of steady interrogation, Melissa acquiesced, adopted their instructions, and gave in to their calls for. She was sleep-deprived — it was early within the morning by then — and pregnant with twins, emotionally and bodily exhausted by the threats and manipulation. (App. at pp. 15-17, 39.)
“Police focused Melissa as a result of she didn’t match their picture of how a grieving mom ought to behave.”
Two specialists on false confessions (together with police coach and interrogation professional, David Thompson, and Dr. Gisli Gudjonsson, one of many world’s main specialists on false confessions) have analyzed Melissa’s interrogation and concluded that her admissions are “unreliable” and easily a “regurgitation” of the phrases and details that interrogators fed to her all through a extremely coercive interrogation course of. (App. at pp. 16, 39-42.)
Missing bodily proof or eyewitnesses connecting Melissa to Mariah’s dying, Cameron County District Lawyer Armando Villalobos — who’s now serving a 13-year federal sentence for bribery and extortion — characterised Melissa’s acquiescence through the interrogation as a “confession” to homicide. (App. at p. 19.)
Mariah’s dying was declared a homicide earlier than the post-mortem even started
The applying states: “[The State’s Medical Examiner] Dr. Farley, who was advised going into post-mortem that Melissa had ‘confessed’ to abusing Mariah, and who was accompanied within the post-mortem suite by two of the interrogating officers, assumed the whole lot she noticed was proof of abuse and ignored all proof on the contrary.” (App. at p. 20.)
At Melissa’s trial, the jury was advised that Mariah’s accidents might solely be defined by baby abuse and issues from an unintentional fall have been not possible. That testimony was false. Dr. Farley failed in her obligation to rule out nonviolent medical explanations for Mariah’s situation earlier than speeding to agree with legislation enforcement’s judgment of abuse. (App. at pp. 19-20, 28.)
Seven specialists, together with nationally acknowledged medical and forensic scientists, have now reviewed the proof in Melissa’s case. Dr. Michael Laposata, the chairman of the Division of Pathology on the College of Texas Medical Department at Galveston, concluded that on the time of her dying Mariah had indications of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), a dysfunction that causes intensive bruising following a head trauma, just like the damage that Mariah suffered from her fall, or an an infection. (App. at p. 21.)
As Dr. Laposata said in his declaration, DIC may cause profound bruising all through the physique with no trauma in any respect. “In sufferers with DIC, routine dealing with at residence or in a hospital setting may cause vital bruising. It isn’t doable to inform the distinction between a bruise from DIC and a bruise from abuse.” (Exhibit 6 at p. 2.)
Dr. Janice Ophoven, a pediatric forensic pathologist, concluded that Mariah’s post-mortem signifies she was in DIC on the time of her dying. Her data additionally present she had a persistent excessive fever, and was sufficiently dehydrated to expertise shock. The applying states: “[S]teeped in extrinsic, biasing info, [Dr. Farley] did not assessment any of Mariah’s medical historical past to search for any clarification or contributing trigger to her accidents, conduct any primary laboratory assessments to diagnose a coagulation dysfunction, and even carry out easy testing to substantiate the presence of an infection or sepsis.” (App. at p. 28.)
5 jurors who served on the jury that sentenced Melissa to die and one alternate juror have expressed grave considerations in regards to the proof that they weren’t allowed to listen to. Juror Johnny Galvan said that “[t]he truth that you could’t pinpoint what precipitated Mariah’s dying signifies that [Melissa] shouldn’t be executed.” Juror Alejandro Saldivar said, “I believe if I heard this proof I’ll have determined otherwise.” (App. at p. 3.)
Melissa’s lifetime of sexual abuse and home violence made her particularly weak to coercive interrogation techniques
Melissa’s uncle and stepfather sexually abused her over a interval of years, beginning when she was six years outdated. She advised her mom, however nothing was accomplished. As a younger teenager, she was raped once more by an grownup man. (App. at p. 44.)
At age 16, Melissa acquired married, changing into a toddler bride, to flee the abuse she suffered and witnessed in her childhood residence. (App. at p. 45.) Melissa’s first husband was a violent alcoholic, in line with testimony at trial (App. at p. 45.) He deserted Melissa after she gave beginning to 5 kids. Melissa’s subsequent companion continued the cycle of violence and abuse. She had seven kids by her second husband. He beat Melissa, choked her, threatened to kill her, and repeatedly raped her. A few of Melissa’s children additionally reported that he struck them. (App. at pp. 45-47.)
The household sunk deeper into poverty and was intermittently homeless. Melissa labored cleansing homes and sought different jobs when she might. Her companion Robert was jailed for months at a time. By the point Melissa was 35, she was battling abuse, cognitive and psychological impairments, habit, and poverty. She had given beginning to 12 kids and suffered a number of miscarriages. (App. at p. 9.)
Melissa’s statements have the hallmarks of a false confession
Over 5 hours, Melissa asserted her innocence 86 instances verbally and 35 instances non-verbally (shaking her head), however police refused to simply accept any response that was not an act of contrition—suggesting to Melissa that the interrogation wouldn’t cease until she advised them what they wished to listen to. (App. at p. 15.) Whereas the overwhelming majority of interrogations final half-hour to as much as two hours, interrogations that elicit confessions later confirmed false final for much longer. “[T]he size of Melissa’s nighttime interrogation additional elevated the chance that she would falsely incriminate herself.” (App at pp. 16, 36-37.)
The interrogating officers used manipulative, psychological methods recognized to trigger false confessions and disregarded Melissa’s a number of vulnerabilities, together with her shock and grief over her daughter’s dying hours earlier, bodily and emotional exhaustion, sleep deprivation, her excessive ranges of suggestibility and compliance, and low IQ. (App. at pp. 37-39.) In keeping with specialists, Melissa’s lifetime of sexual abuse, beginning at six years outdated, and home violence by the hands of two companions, made her extraordinarily weak and prone to falsely confessing throughout an interrogation by male law enforcement officials, some armed. One detective yelled at her: “[i]f I beat you half to dying like that little baby was beat, I wager you you’d die too.” (App. at pp. 35, 42-47.)
Physician Gisli Gudjonsson, one of many world’s main specialists in false confessions, and David Thompson, an professional from one of many nation’s high interrogation coaching colleges, have reviewed the file of Melissa’s case and decided that Melissa “was relentlessly pressured and extensively manipulated” all through the various hours of interrogation and her statements bear the hallmarks of a coerced-compliant false confession. (App. at pp. 15-16.)
“[T]he size of Melissa’s nighttime interrogation additional elevated the chance that she would falsely incriminate herself.”
Dr. Gudjonsson concluded that Melissa’s case presents a “very excessive” threat of false confession and in his “intensive forensic analysis of circumstances of disputed confessions internationally, the quantity, severity, and mixture of the chance components concerned through the prolonged interrogation are distinctive.” (App. at 16.) He additional defined Melissa’s “historical past of detrimental/traumatic life occasions is related to elevated degree of suggestibility, compliance, and false confession . . . as a result of trauma considerably reduces the resilience of the trauma victims to deal with interrogative strain.” (App. at p. 37.)
Mr. Thompson famous, “[r]epetitive threats mixed with guarantees or solutions of leniency are recognized to incentivize harmless topics to admit. These techniques, alongside Ms. Lucio’s susceptibility and her frame of mind in a prolonged interrogation shortly after her daughter’s dying, are recognized to have a considerable psychological affect on a topic’s decision-making” and located her statements are a results of fact-feeding or different techniques utilized by investigators. (Exhibit 11 at pp. 5-6.)
False confessions elicited by guilt-presumptive police interrogations—just like the interrogation at concern right here—are a main explanation for wrongful conviction in the US. Of the 67 girls listed on the Nationwide Registry of Exonerations who have been exonerated after a homicide conviction, over one quarter (17/67) concerned false confessions and practically one third (20/67) concerned baby victims.
What the jury by no means heard
The jury by no means heard how Melissa’s history of trauma and abuse formed her reactions instantly following her daughter’s dying. With out that context, the jury convicted Melissa of capital homicide. (App. at p. 13.)
Melissa’s trial attorneys weren’t ready for the penalty section of the trial. Lead counsel hamstrung his mitigation specialist and professional till weeks earlier than the trial started. Consequently, Melissa’s mitigation specialist by no means accomplished her investigation and the jury by no means discovered in regards to the extent of Melissa’s historical past of kid sexual abuse and home violence.
The omission of this mitigating proof was significantly damaging as a result of the prosecution had a weak case for dying. Melissa had no prior file of violence and the State’s sole proof of future dangerousness was the dying of Mariah and a previous conviction for driving below the affect. (App. at p. 62.)
Thus far, the courts’ arms have been tied
A majority of judges have agreed that the trial court docket was mistaken to exclude the psychologist’s professional testimony, which might have offered an evidence for Melissa’s acquiescence through the coercive interrogation. “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. By excluding professional explanations for Melissa’s remarks throughout her interrogation, the trial court docket wrongfully barred Melissa’s proper to current her protection. (App. at p. 13.) However a divided Fifth Circuit believed that present federal legislation cuts off the courts’ capacity to appropriate this injustice.
On February 18, 2022, the Inter-American Fee on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a decision calling on officers to not execute Melissa earlier than the Fee has had a chance to achieve a closing determination in her case. The Fee thought of the proof that Melissa’s “life was formed by bodily, emotional, and sexual abuse,” and that the identical experiences formed her response to a coercive interrogation.
Disparate sentencing in Melissa’s case
Melissa regrets not getting medical look after Mariah earlier, however she just isn’t responsible of homicide. Her husband, Mariah’s father, was discovered responsible of kid endangerment and sentenced to four years, regardless that he had a history of assaultive conduct. At most, a cost of neglect was extra applicable for Melissa than homicide. (App. at p. 3.)
Corrupt Cameron County DA Villalobos personally led Melissa’s prosecution. In 2007, in alternate for a bribe, he enabled the discharge and flight from justice of Amit Livingston, a person who had killed his estranged girlfriend. As DA Villalobos was scheming to facilitate the discharge of this male batterer, he was pursuing the dying penalty in opposition to a lady who was a lifelong sufferer of sexual abuse and home violence. Former DA Villalobos is now serving a 13-year federal sentence for bribery and extortion. (App. at p. 19.)
Melissa is an individual of deep Catholic religion who walks with God
Melissa grew up with out a lot non secular instruction, however started her stroll with God on September 26, 2014. She is an individual of deep Catholic religion who attends Catholic mass companies each Monday and meets individually with a pastor, Deacon Ronnie, on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2015, Melissa and different girls on dying row shaped a Bible examine group the place, she says, “all of us assist one another.” Her major concern now could be for her household, particularly having her kids assist one another. Due to Melissa, her son John has additionally devoted himself to God, and she or he reads a Bible verse to him originally of every of their visits. (App. at pp. 54-61.)
Widespread assist throughout Texas for clemency
Alarmed by the prospect of executing an harmless lady, who’s a lifelong survivor of sexual abuse and home violence, a large and numerous array of Texans are urging the Governor and the Board to grant Melissa clemency, together with:
- A bipartisan group of greater than 80 members of the Texas Home of Representatives and 20 State Senators; 225 anti-domestic violence/sexual assault organizations from Texas and throughout the nation;
- Over 130 Baptist, Evangelical and Catholic religion leaders in Texas, together with greater than 50 Baptist leaders, the Government Director of the Hispanic Baptist Conference of Texas, and the Director of the Rio Grande Valley Baptist Affiliation;
- Greater than 30 teams that work on behalf of Latinos in Texas and throughout the U.S., together with the Nationwide Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL);
- Eighteen folks wrongfully convicted of against the law in a Texas state court docket, together with Hannah Overton and Michael Morton; and
- Twenty-six dying row exonerees, together with two from Texas.
Melissa’s kids are additionally urging the Governor and the Board to not execute their mom. They’re Mariah’s brothers and sisters and Texas legislation requires that their needs be taken under consideration. (App. at pp. 1-2, 49-51.)
Greater than 200,000 folks, together with greater than 33,000 in Texas, have signed an Innocence Undertaking petition urging clemency for Melissa.
Stop Melissa Lucio’s Execution, Call Gov. Abbott Now
Abused Latinas and wrongful convictions
Of the 67 girls listed on the Nationwide Registry of Exonerations who have been exonerated after a homicide conviction, over one quarter (17/67) concerned false confessions and practically one third (20/67) concerned baby victims.
Roughly one in three Latinas will suffer intimate companion violence in her lifetime, however the charges are greater for Latinas like Melissa who struggle with poverty and who have been sexually abused as kids. Additionally, analysis signifies that police are inclined to disbelieve girls of coloration once they report home violence. At Melissa’s dying penalty trial, the prosecution belittled the proof of Melissa’s historical past of sexual abuse and home violence. (See trial transcript vol. 39 pp. 161-62.)
In keeping with the Loss of life Penalty Data Heart, since 1973, 187 folks have been exonerated from dying row, together with 16 in Texas, and the variety of folks whose lives have been taken earlier than they have been in a position to show their innocence is unknown.