Reasonable Doubt in Texas: The Case of Melissa Lucio

UPDATE: Melissa has been granted a stay of execution and will be going to trial court to review new evidence. We will keep you posted as we hear any new information

Continue Reading for full story

Please sign the Innocence Project Petition.

Texas call Gov. Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Parole by dialing 956-446-2866

Call the Cameron County District Attorney and ask him to withdraw Ms. Lucio’s execution date.  956-300-3881

Use the hashtag #SaveMelissaLucio on social media and include in your post that Melissa Lucio is scheduled to be executed on April 27, 2022 for a tragic accident.

Purchase gear at bonfire.com/store/save-melissa-lucio

Learn more about this case:

Melissa Lucio was brought up in Lubbock Texas. She was raised in a Catholic Mexican-American family with many siblings, and a rocky relationship with her mother. Melissa watched her mom, Hope, face physical abuse at the hands of her romantic partners, and she herself also suffered through years of prolonged sexual abuse from family members and other adults she was supposed to trust. This all began at a very young age, and her mother admits to not believing her when she tried to seek help, so the pattern continued. 

When she was just 16, Melissa married an older man in an attempt to escape her childhood. She moved out and had five children by the time she was 24 years old. But Melissa’s examples of what love should be were not great growing up, and as a result neither were her relationships. That marriage was allegedly abusive and unhappy, and when they eventually divorced it was a pattern that Melissa continued to repeat. By the time Melissa was arrested in 2007  she had 12 children between the ages of 2 and 15, and was pregnant with twins. Experts they interviewed for the documentary “The State of Texas vs Melissa” said that motherhood may have been the only place Melissa found any value and worth.

She often chose men who were abusive, addicted, and had criminal involvement. Whether it was self medicating, or perhaps pushed by her partners, Melissa ended up with some substance use disorder herself, her drug of choice being cocaine. Financially, things for Melissa were always extremely tight, even facing periods of homelessness as a family. CPS had been involved several times, and Melissa was often on their radar for these issues. 

Mariah Alvarez, Melissa’s youngest daughter

On February 17th, 2007 the youngest baby Mariah never woke up from her nap. Her little body was brought to a medical examiner who saw bruising and determined that she had been abused. While the family was reeling from the horror of this tragic death, police aggressively interrogated Melissa for hours and hours for the murder of her daughter. Pregnant with twins, she’d had no sleep, no food, no drink, and had just lost her child. Footage from the interrogation shows police get in her face, and make her beat a doll as an example of how she hits her children. At 3am, an exhausted and defeated Melissa who had already said she didn’t hurt her baby 80 times finally agreed “I guess I did it”. 

Melissa was tried for capital murder, meaning the intentional planned murder of her daughter Mariah. She was sentenced to the death penalty. The Innocence Project is now representing her and asking for an urgent call to action to help get her sentence vacated. 

So what really happened? 

On February 15th, 2007- two days before Mariah’s death- the family was moving from one apartment to a new home. The old place had a long, steep, dilapidated wooden staircase down to the ground level. Little Mariah had a mild physical disability which caused her to be a bit unsteady on her toddler legs. More than one of her siblings report Mariah taking a bad fall down the stairs that day, but said that she was fine. She cried and they consoled her, and everyone went on as normal. Two days later, she fell asleep for a nap and never woke up having died of a brain bleed.

Upon examination after her death the bruising on the girl’s body was of a questionable nature, and the examiner immediately linked it to abuse. But according to the experts on Melissa’s side, especially forensic pathologist Thomas Young, brain bleeds can do that to you. Poor little Mariah was suffering those two days from bleeding in the brain, and the strange staggered appearance of the bruises was actually a result of that brian bleed as the tissue began to die. He says that even the slightest touch could have left a bruise like mark on her body. 

Did she abuse her kids? 

Despite a long case file with Child Protective Services, there’s absolutely no evidence that Melissa ever abused any of her children. The state didn’t even present any evidence of this in their case. Melissa’s other kids say she never abused any of them and they never saw her abuse Mariah. In fact, they all say that during that window of time Melissa was never even alone with Mariah. Yes she struggled to provide for her family. Yes she struggled to stay sober. But no one anywhere can verify that she was physically abusive. 

Why would she confess?  

Melissa Lucio spent her entire life trying to survive abuse, coercion, and manipulation from men. Giving in to a threatening man of power had been her means of survival since she was a small child.  

According to the Innocence Project, 27% of exonerations were from false confessions. Research has shown that survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence are at a much higher risk for falsely confessing. Experts for Melissa Lucios team who reviewed the hours of interrogation footage agree that she “was relentlessly pressured and extensively manipulated”  

Why would the state pursue this so hard then?? And Why would the jury convict?? 

Well this is where the story gets even more controversial. In 2008 the Cameron County District Attorney was a man named Armando Villalobos. Now we all know that a lot of the higher levels of the judicial system are positions of politics, and he was up for reelection as DA. Villalobos was a rising political star who had his eyes on the white house and wanted to make a big name for himself. He’d previously come under fire for not properly investigating over 100 cases of child abuse, and was looking to reinvigorate his position as one that was tough on crime. 

Former District Attorney Armando Villalobos

Melissa’s team of attorneys and supporters feel that THIS was the primary motive for seeking capital punishment. In order to charge Melissa with capital murder and be eligible for the death penalty, the state was claiming (and was expected to prove beyond a reasonable doubt) that Melissa intentionally, willfully, and with planning murdered her daughter. If the state could successfully achieve a capital conviction here, Melissa Lucio would be the first latina woman on death row- a major boost to Villalobos’ image. 

What’s crazy is that it may have worked, because he was reelected in November after her conviction… but his political career did not last. According to official court documents, “In May 2013, a federal jury convicted Villalobos of one count of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act and five counts of extortion.”- (justice.gov) According to the federal prosecutor on that trial, he was deeply involved in organized crime and drug trafficking rings. He is currently serving 13 years in federal prison. 

Peter Gilman, Lucio’s first defense attorney and current Assistant District Attorney

There are also a lot of people who feel Melissa wasn’t adequately represented in court, which is a deep rabbit hole to go down should you choose to. Some people blame incompetence, some point toward conspiracy here, because Peter Gilman, who represented her, is now the Assistant District Attorney himself. He says himself that he had no intention of switching offices, it just happened that way. But, It is also worth noting that another one of her 2008 defense attorneys, Irma Gilman, is now Judge Garcia’s court administrator, so Melissa’s new attorneys have filed motions to have certain people withheld from future proceedings because of that affiliation. 

Melissa Lucio

One thing to know is that no matter which way you slice it, Melissa’s story really was not properly shared with the jury. Many experts feel that the jury should have been let more in on Melissa’s background to understand the circumstances which would have caused her to confess. Absolutely no witnesses were called in her defense. None of her children were permitted to testify about what they saw or didn’t see, such as the fall down the stairs and the allegations of abuse. Surely also her lifelong history of sexual assault and domestic violence were worthwhile bits of evidence to know in explanation for her statement at the interrogation. Similarly they weren’t properly informed of Mariah’s medical conditions, or symptoms which could have contributed to her bruising looking like abuse. The real question everyone should be screaming here is “Did Melissa get a FAIR trial?“ If your answer is no, even if you’re unclear or undecided on Melissa’s role in her daughter’s death, it’s worth sticking around for our calls to action at the end of this episode. 

Melissa’s family, mother Hope sitting in front

On April 15th, 2022, so just two days ago for us here as we record, Melissa’s new attorney team have filed a 242-page application for a writ of habeas corpus asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stay her scheduled April 27, 2022 execution and vacate her conviction and death sentence. I will leave you with a quote directly from one of her attorneys, Vanessa Potkin, who’s the Director of Special Litigation for the Innocence project:

“If the jury had heard evidence about the coercive tactics used in Melissa’s interrogation and the medical evidence showing that Mariah’s cause of death was consistent with an accident, they would have found there was no murder, Melissa would have been acquitted, and she would be preparing for Easter mass with her children, not facing execution. She deserves a new trial,” 

– Vanessa Potkin

Once again here is your URGENT Call to Action:

Please sign the Innocence Project Petition.

Texas call Gov. Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Parole by dialing 956-446-2866

Call the Cameron County District Attorney and ask him to withdraw Ms. Lucio’s execution date.  956-300-3881

Use the hashtag #SaveMelissaLucio on social media and include in your post that Melissa Lucio is scheduled to be executed on April 27, 2022 for a tragic accident.

Purchase gear at bonfire.com/store/save-melissa-lucio

Sources:

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