Apr 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Texas court halts execution of Melissa Lucio

Melissa Lucio stands behind a glass wall in a prison in Texas while wearing a white jumpsuit
Melissa Lucio poses for a portrait behind glass at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas, on March 21. Photo: Courtesty of Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Innocence Project

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has delayed the execution of Melissa Lucio, who was scheduled to be executed Wednesday for the death of her 2-year-old daughter.

The big picture: Lucio and her lawyers say she is innocent, pointing to new evidence they say shows her daughter, Mariah, died from falling down the stairs. Her case has drawn widespread outrage, with over 100 Texas lawmakers, celebrities and criminal justice advocates voicing their support for Lucio in recent weeks.

Details: The criminal appeals court on Monday granted a request to stay the execution to allow a lower consider the merits of Lucio's innocence claims.

  • Lucio's lawyers had also asked the state's pardons and parole board to recommend Gov. Greg Abbott (R) grant Lucio clemency. The board said later Monday that it would not make a recommendation "at this time" in light of the appeals court's ruling.

What they're saying: “I thank God for my life. I have always trusted in Him. I am grateful the court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence," Lucio said in a statement.

  • "Mariah is in my heart today and always. I am grateful to have more days to be a mother to my children and a grandmother to my grandchildren," the mother of 14 added.
  • "We're as happy as can be. We've been fighting for 15 years or so, and all of this year, and now we're seeing results," Lucio's son, John, said following Monday's ruling.

Background: Lucio was sentenced to death in 2008, a year after Mariah’s death in Harlingen, Texas.

  • In 2019, she was granted a new trial, but that decision was overturned by an appeals court.
  • The Supreme Court last year declined to review the case. In a court filing at the time, the Texas attorney general's office pointed to an autopsy that found Mariah died from “blunt force head trauma."
  • Her lawyers argue she was coerced into a false confession and given an unfair trial during which a medical examiner provided false testimony about Mariah's death.
  • Five jurors in the original case now say they have "grave concerns about evidence withheld from them" and support relief, her lawyers said in Friday's court filing.

Go deeper: Melissa Lucio's lawyers petition Texas court for stay of execution

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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