Woman on Texas' death row seeks withdrawn execution date

Melissa Lucio was sentenced to death for the 2007 death of her 2-year-old daughter. File Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Melissa Lucio was sentenced to death for the 2007 death of her 2-year-old daughter. File Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Attorneys for a woman on death row in Texas asked Tuesday to have her upcoming execution date withdrawn or modified, saying her 2-year-old daughter's death in 2007 was accidental and she was coerced into falsely confessing.

Melissa Lucio, 53, is scheduled to be executed April 27 for the 2007 death of her daughter Mariah. Police said Lucio confessed to beating her daughter to death, but her lawyers said witnesses and evidence showed the girl accidentally fell down a flight of stairs.


Defense lawyers said Mariah fell down a flight of outdoor stairs while the family was moving to a new apartment.

The girl was known to have a "mild physical disability" that made her unsteady while walking and had had fallen before. They said the child appeared uninjured after the fall, but she didn't wake up from a nap two days later.

In a filing Tuesday, her attorneys accused police of discounting "medical and scientific evidence" indicating Mariah's death was accidental. Vanessa Potkin, director of special litigation at the Innocence Project, said police pressured Lucio to confess during an interrogation within hours of the death of her daughter.


Lawyers said Lucio repeatedly told police she didn't kill her daughter, but officers yelled at and berated her. They said she was vulnerable to what they described as a coercive interrogation technique after years of abuse and trauma.

"While pregnant with twins, Melissa was subjected to a 5-hour, late-night and aggressive interrogation until, physically and emotionally exhausted, she agreed to say, 'I guess I did it.' Melissa suffered a lifetime of sexual abuse -- starting when she was only 6 years old -- and domestic violence, which made her especially vulnerable to the police's coercive interrogation tactics," Potkin said.

Lucio's lawyers also took issue with the trial judge's decision not to allow defense attorneys to present expert witnesses who could have testified about how her past trauma may have influenced her confession.

A federal appeals court later said such evidence would've been important in her initial trial, during which prosecutors didn't provide any physical evidence or witness testimony to suggest Lucio ever abused Mariah or any of her other 11 children.

Tivon Schardl, a federal defender who serves as one of Lucio's attorneys, said a "strong innocence claim" exists in the case and accused Texas of rushing to execute her.


"Texas tore this family apart through the cruelty and injustice of Melissa's wrongful conviction. Her children, mother, and siblings have been traumatized by Melissa's arrest, prosecution, and death sentence," Schardl said.

Potkin said the state should withdraw Lucio's execution date to allow the courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the parole board to review the case.

"There is too much doubt to execute Melissa Lucio. Too many questions remain about the results of the autopsy, the conduct of interrogators, prosecutors, and courts, and Melissa's mental impairments," Potkin said.

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