Criminal Justice

Execution stayed for Texas woman who confessed in toddler’s death after 100 denials

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The top criminal court in Texas has stayed the execution of Melissa Elizabeth Lucio, who confessed to the murder of her 2-year-old daughter after repeated denials during an hourslong interrogation.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the scheduled April 27 execution Monday. A press release is here.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a trial-level court review of four of Lucio’s claims: that she is actually innocent, that previously unavailable scientific testimony would have prevented her conviction, that no juror would have convicted her but for the prosecution’s use of false testimony, and that the state suppressed evidence favorable to her defense.

In an application for a writ of habeas corpus, Lucio’s lawyers say newly discovered evidence shows that Lucio was convicted of a crime that never happened.

Lucio’s daughter, Mariah, had died in February 2007 two days after falling down the stairs, her lawyers say.

Lucio was interrogated for more than five hours beginning two hours after Mariah’s death, the application says. Police “shouted at Ms. Lucio; berated her as a neglectful mother; repeatedly showed her photos of her dead child; and implied that if she wasn’t at fault, one of her other children or her husband would have to be,” the application says.

Before confessing, Lucio denied involvement more than 100 times, either orally or by shaking her head.

The medical examiner had failed to consider Mariah’s medical history, which included excessive sleep and lack of appetite before her death, which are consistent with head trauma after an accidental fall, the application says. Mariah’s blood coagulation disorder, which “caused profuse bruising throughout the body,” was also ignored, the application says.

The application says prosecutors relied on “false and scientifically invalid testimony—namely, that Mariah’s injuries must have occurred within 24 hours of her death and that marks on Mariah’s body were adult-sized bite marks.”

The application also alleges that the state suppressed evidence of eye witnesses who would have confirmed Lucio’s account of Mariah’s death, and that Lucio had not abused Mariah or any of her children.

Lucio’s demeanor after her child’s death was consistent with abuse suffered in childhood and at the hands of her husband and subsequent partner, the application contends. A law enforcement officer’s testimony about her reaction to the death was “wholly baseless,” the application says.

“Like many individuals who have experienced prior trauma, Ms. Lucio responds to intensely painful or stressful situations by turning inwards and becoming passive, including displaying a flat affect,” the application says.

Hat tip to CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times, which had coverage of the ruling.

According to the Washington Post, “the court’s decision follows campaigning from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and John Oliver, most of Lucio’s children, religious leaders and a bipartisan group of more than 100 members of the Texas legislature.”

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