Who Is Melissa Lucio?

Melissa Lucio BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of the Innocence Project.

I rarely appreciate that the Kardashians are taking up space on social media. However, when Kim stood up for Melissa Lucio, the Latina mother sentenced to death in Texas and managed to put the spotlight on an issue as serious as the death penalty, I had to give the celebrity credit.

Finally, the public is paying attention to the unjust sentence that has weighed on Lucio for 15 years.

In 2007, Melissa Lucio had fourteen children, the youngest of whom was found by paramedics unresponsive and with signs of abuse on her body. According to a report from the Cameron County, Texas, District Attorney’s Office, the two-year-old reportedly had scattered bruises, bite marks, and a broken arm.

Although Lucio claimed an accident, an autopsy determined that the child had fractures and injuries between two and seven weeks old.

The mother was interrogated without the right of defense, and although she admitted to hitting the girl, she did not admit to abusing her. Even so, the recording of her interrogation was presented at trial as a confession.

Melissa Lucio was then convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2008.

According to the Innocence Project, the organization in charge of Lucio’s defense, instead of taking steps to learn Mariah’s health history and investigate the causes of her injuries, authorities immediately concluded that she had been murdered and, through coercive interrogation, pressured Lucio to make a false statement.

Nearly 1 in 3 exonerated women were wrongfully convicted of harming children or other loved ones in their care, and nearly 70% were wrongfully convicted of crimes that never occurred (events determined to be accidents, suicide deaths, and fabricated crimes) according to data from the National Registry of Exonerations.

Similarly, thousands of pages of Child Protective Services records show that Lucio was never violent with any of her 12 children. No physical evidence showed otherwise.

“The State presented no physical evidence or witness testimony establishing that Lucio abused Mariah or any of her children, let alone killed Mariah,” Judge Catharina Haynes wrote on behalf of the seven dissenting judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. 

“The jury was deprived of key evidence to weigh: that is the point.”

The jury did not hear Melissa Lucio’s defense. To make matters worse, Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos, who was then campaigning for re-election, used the death penalty as “a victory.” The former district attorney is currently serving a 13-year federal prison sentence for bribery and extortion.

Meanwhile, Lucio has maintained her innocence while waiting on death row.

“The criminal legal system failed her and her family, and if it executes her, it will continue to do so,” the Innocence Project concluded.