BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Nearly 15 years after Melissa Lucio was found guilty and sentenced to death for murdering her two-year-old daughter Mariah, lawyers are requesting Governor Greg Abbott grant her clemency.
Cameron County officials signed an execution warrant for Lucio in January that will be carried out on April 27.
In their application for clemency, Lucio’s lawyers argue that Lucio was convicted using false testimony and that tactics used to get her confession were coercive.
You can read the application for clemency here.
Lucio’s lawyers ask the governor to commute her sentence from death to something lesser or grant a 120-day stay of execution.
Sandra Babcock, a Cornell law professor and founder of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, agrees.
“Melissa Lucio would never ever be facing the death penalty if she were prosecuted today. It would not happen,” she said on a Zoom call to media.
Other experts and advocates joined Babcock on the call to discuss Lucio’s request for clemency.
They argue that the investigation and trial of Lucio were handled improperly from the start.
David Thompson, a police interrogation expert, said that multiple mistakes were made by law enforcement during Lucio’s interrogation.
He said there are three factors in a false confession. “First, is misclassification. Answering the question of how did the wrong person get put in this position in the first place?” he said. “Second is coercion. What incentivizes an innocent person to confess and third is contamination? How can they provide details about something that they didn’t do?”
Thompson said he believed all three factors were present in Lucio’s interrogation, and past experiences made her more susceptible to coercion.
“Ms. Lucio, known to be a victim of abuse throughout her life, and being exposed to sustained trauma, is at an increased suggestibility,” he said.
The application for clemency states that Lucio’s lawyers tried to present evidence of her history of abuse during her trial, but the jury was not allowed to hear it. Babcock said that could have impacted the case.
“The judge excluded that testimony,” Babcock said. “So, the jurors never got to hear why she confessed falsely to acts she did not commit.”
Daisy Lopez, an advocate against domestic violence for Friendship of Women, said that executing Melissa Lucio would have a negative impact on survivors of abuse.
“To understand that Melissa’s experiences were not validated, that they weren’t believed, that they were not taken into account, shows a lack of understanding in our community,” she said.
If Lucio is not granted clemency by the state, she will become the first Latina woman to be executed by Texas in the modern era.