CAMERON COUNTY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A woman convicted of killing her daughter in 2007 is scheduled for execution in April after nearly 15 years of litigation and overturned rulings.
Cameron County officials signed the execution warrant for Melissa Lucio, 53, a Harlingen woman found guilty of beating her two-year-old daughter to death in February 2007.
According to court documents, Lucio was indicted for the murder charge in May 2007. She subsequently pleaded not guilty.
On the night of the incident, Lucio and the child’s father contacted paramedics to their Harlingen home in reference to their daughter. Investigators found Lucio’s 2-year-old daughter covered in bruises, bite marks, and a broken arm. EMT personnel stated the child was not breathing and had nobody near her when they arrived.
Lucio told police that her daughter fell down the stairs and that caused her death, according to court documents. However, Lucio also stated she was responsible for the bite mark and bruise marks on her body.
She told investigators that she was not angry at the 2-year-old child, but was frustrated with her other 13 children when the bite incident occurred.
During the case trial, a pathologist testified that the child’s autopsy revealed she did not die from falling downstairs and instead her injuries were consistent with a death from blunt-force trauma. Furthermore, court documents state the emergency room doctor that attempted to revive Lucio’s daughter stated it was the worst case of child abuse he had ever seen.
Lucio’s defense attempted to argue that these injuries were in fact from falling down the stairs and that her “psychological functioning” contributed to her conflicting reports given to police. Defense attorneys also argued that because Lucio told the truth to police about her beating her child that they should believe her when she said she did not hit deliver the fatal blow to her daughter’s head.
Despite the defense’s arguments, Lucio was found guilty of capital murder in July 2008. She was sentenced to death shortly after.
Lucio appealed the court order and outlined 14 points of error in the trial. Many of these points argued that Lucio was unable to present a complete defense because the court rejected some of the defense’s witnesses.
The Texas Court of Appeals rejected her appeal and upheld the Cameron County court’s decision. Lucio again appealed to a higher court.
Eventually, in 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit overturned the lower court’s decision and agreed to allow Lucio a chance at a complete defense. Lucio’s attorneys hoped these new witnesses could shed light on Lucio’s character as a “battered woman” who “takes blame for everything that goes on in the family.”
However, the court would overturn this ruling just months later. Another process of appeals and rejections stretched out from 2019 to October 2021 until a plea for a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court was denied.
With this motion, Cameron County officials moved forward with setting an execution date for Lucio, who had been on death row since her conviction in 2008. Officials set her execution date for April 27.
During her litigation, Lucio earned notoriety as the first Hispanic woman on death row in Texas. Her story became the subject of the 2020 documentary The State of Texas vs. Melissa.
The documentary highlights some of the legal issues presented in the trial’s early stages such as making note of the former district attorney who prosecuted the case’s legal troubles with taking bribes in exchange for outcomes in trials. The film series also takes aim at Lucio’s lack of a fair defense and paints her as a person possibly coerced into giving a confession.
Despite these claims, Lucio will now face execution in April for the crime she was convicted of committing.