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A small group of protestors are standing outside the Cameron County Courthouse in Brownsville, Texas in early February.

The group is chanting “Free Melissa Lucio!”

Melissa Elizabeth Lucio is the first Latina to be put on death row in Texas.

In 2008, she was convicted of capital murder after the death of her two-year-old daughter, Mariah Elizabeth Alvarez.

John Lucio, Melissa Lucio’s eldest son, holds a sign at a protest outside Cameron County Courthouse in Brownsville, Texas on February 11, 2022 in support of his mother. (Reynaldo Leaños Jr./Latino USA)

“She is an innocent woman,” said John Lucio, Melissa’s eldest son, at a protest outside of the Cameron County Courthouse on Feb. 11, 2022. “She is not guilty of the death of my baby sister.”

John, as well as other family members and supporters of Melissa Lucio, believes she is innocent and that she did not receive a fair trial 14 years ago. Throughout all these years, Melissa has maintained her innocence.

Melissa was also recently the focus of a deep-dive investigative documentary, “The State of Texas v. Melissa,” that looked into questions some still have surrounding Melissa’s trial.

“I really did not know much about her case, apart from the fact that, you know, she was there because she supposedly had killed her daughter,” said Sabrina Van Tassel, the director of the documentary. “I met Melissa… and everything in me, like every single cell in my body, was telling me, ‘This just cannot be. I don’t believe it. There’s just much more to this story.’”

A young Melissa Lucio. (Image courtesy of the Lucio family)

The documentary examines key elements that were used to convict Melissa, including her testimony to local law enforcement, which supporters argue resulted in a coerced confession. There were also interviews that were not presented during trial, such as those from eye witnesses and experts who could have testified about Melissa’s history of sexual abuse and more. The documentary also challenges the competence of Melissa’s defense. Recent articles from The Marshall Project and The Intercept also explored key aspects of Melissa’s case: her history as a survivor of abuse, and the role it played in her supposed confession, and the possibility that she was convicted for a crime that didn’t occur.

In 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court Appeals seemed to agree with Melissa’s defense and opened the door to the possibility for a new trial. It was only the second time the court had granted this appeal since 2000. However, the state of Texas appealed the ruling and the court backtracked its decision.

A few months later, an execution date was set for Melissa: she is scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 27. She would be the first Latina to be executed by the state of Texas in 160 years. Before Melissa, Josefa “Chipita” Rodríguez was charged with murder, even though there was no evidence against her and she insisted she was innocent. She was sentenced and hanged. In 1985, over a century after her death, the Texas legislature absolved Rodríguez of the murder, and she was posthumously pardoned.

Portrait of Melissa Lucio at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas on March 21, 2022. (Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Innocence Project)

On March 22, 2022, a petition for clemency was filed on Melissa Lucio’s behalf with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott. The clemency application presents new forensic analyses, which support the argument that Melissa was wrongly convicted, as well as the declarations from four jurors, who convicted Melissa in her trial, but now say they have “grave concerns about evidence withheld from them.” The application asks for the commutation of the death sentence to a lesser penalty or a 120 day reprieve from execution. For now, Melissa’s execution remains scheduled for late April.

In this episode of Latino USA, we look into Melissa Lucio’s story, we hear from her family about how Melissa’s conviction has destroyed their lives, and we learn about their race to save her life before it’s too late.

Featured image courtesy of the Lucio family. 

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4 thoughts on “The Race to Save Melissa Lucio

  1. From AP September 2011:

    The woman (Lucio) told authorities the child had fallen down some stairs but emergency room physicians found she had bruises covering her body, bite marks on her back, an arm that had been broken weeks earlier and was missing hair that had been pulled by the roots from her head. An autopsy showed the girl had been beaten on her head and the injuries were not caused by a fall down some stairs.

  2. I wacked her documentary on Hulu . There’s not enough evidence of a murder trial . The evidence shows the civil falling down the stairs.

  3. I don’t believe anyone saying that Melissa is innocent, she is guilty, she was frustrated lady , 12 children at her 37 years of age ? She did not have other thing to do? Another daughter confessing now that her little sister got marked in her body with bites, and her mother’s rings! Can you believe that? I DO BELIEVE. Also, the State must be prosecuted , because their gave back the girl to that monster! She is a monster . She need to pay for her child’s life, poor girl , she suffered and experienced the hell, because hell is here.

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