'Pro-Life' Texas Set To Execute Innocent Mother Of 14, Because Of How Much They Love Life

Criminal Justice System
'Pro-Life' Texas Set To Execute Innocent Mother Of 14, Because Of How Much They Love Life

In a little over two weeks, the state of Texas will execute a woman for a crime that never even happened.

In 2007, Melissa Lucio's two-year-old daughter Mariah died several days after having fallen down the stairs — the result of a mild physical disability that made it difficult for her to maintain balance. Two hours after her child's death, Lucio was dragged down to the police station where she was, according to experts, “relentlessly pressured and extensively manipulated” by police who were certain she had beaten her child to death and insisted that if she didn't confess, they'd have to charge one of her other children for the crime. Around hour five of this, after asserting over 100 times that she was innocent, the grieving, pregnant mother said, "I guess I did it."

This was taken as a totally legitimate confession by police officers and used in her trial, where her defense was not allowed to present evidence that the child's bruises were the result of a fall, testimony from her 12 other children testifying that she was never violent, testimony from those who witnessed the fall, or that, as a survivor of sexual and domestic violence, Lucio was more likely to falsely confess to a crime, but did allow the Texas Ranger who had interrogated her to tell the jury that her "slumped posture, passivity, and failure to make eye contact" was all the proof he needed to tell him that she was guilty.

Based on this information, as well as testimony from Cameron County Medical Examiner Norma Jean Farley saying that the child's injuries "could only" have been caused by child abuse, the jury in Lucio's case sentenced her to death, set to occur on April 27 of this year.

Three of those jurors and one alternate have since come forward and signed affidavits saying they would not have found Lucio guilty had they had access to all of the information in their case.

Via NPR:

Her lawyers say Lucio's sentence was disproportionate to what her husband and Mariah's father, Robert Alvarez, received. He got a four-year sentence for causing injury to a child by omission even though he also was responsible for Mariah's care, Lucio's lawyers argue.

In 2019, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Lucio's conviction, ruling she was deprived of "her constitutional right to present a meaningful defense." However, the full court in 2021 said the conviction had to be upheld for procedural reasons, "despite the difficult issue of the exclusion of testimony that might have cast doubt on the credibility of Lucio's confession."

In light of new scientific evidence that Dr. Farley was incorrect that the child's injuries "could only" have been sustained through child abuse, Ms. Lucio's lawyers have filed a clemency petition in hopes of getting a stay of execution.

At trial, the State used Dr. Farley’s false and scientifically invalid testimony—that Mariah’s injuries must have occurred within twenty-four hours of her death and that marks on Mariah’s body were human bite marks—to convict Melissa. The timing conclusion made Melissa’s defense, that Mariah had died due to injuries from her days-prior fall down the stairs, impossible, and the highly inflammatory “bite mark” testimony confirmed the State’s abuse narrative. But both conclusions are indisputably false, as experts now confirm. Dr. Farley also told the jury that Mariah’s extensive bruising could only be the result of a beating, which was false—Mariah’s autopsy findings reflected a disorder known to cause extensive bruising, which experts confirm can erroneously be attributed to abuse. Dr. Farley further inflamed the jury by claiming that an older healing fracture in Mariah’s arm was a sign of prior abuse. That, too, was false. “Fractures are very common among toddlers,” often result from falls or roughhousing, and “[t]here is nothing about the nature of [Mariah’s] fracture that indicates that it was the result of an intentional act or abuse.”

The whole thing is absolutely horrifying. In fact, it's so horrifying that even some Republican legislators in Texas want Governor Greg Abbott to stay Lucio's execution. Eighty-three Texas House legislators sent a petition to Abbott and to the Board of Pardons and Paroles last month asking them to grant Lucio a reprieve or commute her sentence.

The Innocence Project is also maintaining a petition for those who want to add their voice to the increasingly loud chorus of "this woman should not be executed."

It's a little ironic that the top three reasons for wrongful convictions in this country are also the things that "reasonable" people would likely consider the most rock solid evidence: eyewitness testimony, forensics, and confessions. It's not terribly surprising, either. All of these things play into narratives we'd like to believe about ourselves — that our own memory can be trusted, that we are reasonable people who trust science, and that we would never confess to a crime that we wouldn't commit. The idea of these things not being true is inherently upsetting.

Studies have shown that eyewitness testimony is affected by things like stress, personal biases, eyesight issues, expectations and stereotypes, and that it is often malleable and prone to change under testimony. Forensic science is also nowhere near as infallible as it is presented on TV shows like "CSI," "Bones," "Dexter," and "Silent Witness" — bite mark analysis, blood spatter analysis, fiber evidence, etc., are all pretty much junk science that cannot be trusted. "Shaken Baby Syndrome" is not a thing that can be definitively proven. As far as confessions go, in a study of 311 cases of people who were exonerated by DNA evidence, over a quarter of them had given false confessions. The most popular interrogation technique in the United States, the Reid Technique, is known for eliciting false confessions, including in very famous cases like the Central Park Five.

This is the exact technique that was used on Melissa Lucio.

An expert in false confessions explained in The Independent:

[T[he interrogators used the controversial Reid interrogation technique, which is guilt-presumptive, uses psychological manipulation to coerce confessions, and has been linked to countless false confessions. The two main components of the Reid technique involve the maximization of the suspect’s anxiety (here, this involved threats, rejections of Lucio’s repeated insistence in her innocence, and repeatedly forcing Lucio to look at photographs of her daughter’s dead body) and minimization of the act (here, expressing apparent understanding of and justification for “beating” her daughter). The interrogators refused to accept that Lucio was innocent and presented her with a forced choice: either she caused her daughter’s death accidentally — a less serious option that, if she admitted it, would result in lenient treatment by the justice system — or she was a “cold-blooded killer” who would undoubtedly face capital punishment.

This technique is not really used in other countries due to the high rate of eliciting false confessions. The PEACE method, used in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Norway is far less likely to do that.

The USA is one of the last remaining countries to still have the death penalty. Hell, even Russia doesn't have the death penalty officially (or rather, has had a moratorium on it since 1996). But at last count, 55 percent of Americans still think it is a great idea, and that's actually a low point for the past several decades.

Countries with the death penalty 2022

The reason we have it is very simple — people enjoy it. It makes them feel happy and safe, satisfies a certain amount of blood lust, and, I would assume, gives them the same kind of thrill people get when they eat an ortolan whole.

The problem is, as much as people like to pretend otherwise, our justice system isn't set up to only convict the guilty, and it's definitely not set up to let people out of prison or take the death penalty off the table once "actual innocence" is proven. In this case, it is beyond obvious that this woman is far from "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," but nothing can be done about it for "procedural reasons."

It seems like, perhaps, this is the kind of thing that ought to be put on hold for a while until we figure out how to stop convicting people of crimes they did not commit.

[Innocence Project]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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