Judge recommends overturn of conviction for death row mother accused of killing her daughter in 2007

April 23, 2024

In 2022, Melissa Lucio, a mother accused in the death of her own daughter, was sentenced to death by a Texas court.

On February 17, 2007, emergency services were dispatched to a home in Texas to find a two-year-old girl, unresponsive, on the floor of a Harlingen home. The girl had taken a nap that her parents could not wake her up from. Just two days before the girl’s death, she had accidentally fallen down the staircase of the family home.

The child, identified as Mariah Alvarez, was laying on the floor, while her father, Robert Alvarez, administered CPR while waiting for first responders to arrive at the scene. Despite the best efforts of EMTs, the child was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Mariah was one of twelve children.

Suspicion into the nature of Mariah’s death came about when bruises and other injuries to her body were noticed, which investigators believed may have been indicative of prior abuse. These injuries would later be recorded at autopsy, and according to the medical examiner, these results included a fractured arm estimated to have happened between two – seven weeks prior to the child’s death. According to the Innocence Project, Later investigation by pathologists reviewing the evidence attributed the bruising on the victim's body to a possible blood coagulation disorder. The fracture to the arm was later contested by a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon who said there was no indication that the injury was a result of abuse, and that it was a common injury for toddlers.

Just a couple of hours after the child's death, her mother, Melissa Lucio, who was pregnant at the time, found herself being questioned by police. The initial interview took place on February 18, 2007, and questioning would last for several hours. Ms. Lucio proclaimed innocence over and over during the interview.

According to the innocence project, who later went on to work with Lucio on her case, said she was "berated and intimidated" by officers who "used coercive methods known to produce false confessions." This resulted in "false, incriminating statements" to be made by Lucio. These statements were later referred to as a murder confession by the prosecution.

In video footage from the session, at around 3:00am, Lucio can be seen looking exhausted, slouched over a detective’s desk, with a baby doll laying nearby.   

The Detective asks: "Did she make you mad?" Lucio shakes her head and wipes a tear. "Then why did you do it?" the detective asked. "I just did it," Lucio responds.

Following the interview, Melissa Lucio was arrested on charges of Capital Murder. Her husband was arrested on charges of failing to seek medical attention for his child.

Melissa Lucio was sentenced to death in 2008. The admissions she made under pressure and intimidation were used against her.

Earlier this month, the death sentence and conviction were recommended to be overturned.

District Judge Arturo Nelson looked at new evidence that indicated the Melissa Lucio had likely died due to the accidental fall two days before her death, including witness statements, and a Child Protective Services (CPS) report that was not present at the initial trial. According to Lucio’s attorney, this previously withheld evidence would have supported Lucio’s defense at the initial trial if presented.

Prosecutors have been accused of supressing key evidence, such as interviews with five of Melissa Lucio's children, in which they stated Mariah had accidentally fallen down the stairs two days before her death. One of the children said they witnessed the fall.

The children also stated that their mother had not been abusive to their sibling. These interviews were reportedly not shared in full with defense at trial.

A psychologist and social worker were not allowed to testify at the 2008 trial as per Judge Nelson's refusal to hear them. Advocates of Melissa Lucio believe that the testimonies could have provided valuable insight into the reasons Lucio may have made a false confession during initial questioning. These reasons pertain to the shock Lucio suffered after her daughter’s death, the conditions under which she was questioned, as well as the history of domestic violence and sexual abuse against her.  

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals banned denied an appeal against the conviction in 2011. Lucio was scheduled for execution on April 27, 2022, and petitioned for a pardon. Two days before the execution date, 83 members of the Texas House of Representatives signed against executing Lucio, saying that doing so would be a miscarriage of justice.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of execution On April 25, 2022.

After Judge Nelson’s recommendation to overturn the convictions this month, April 2024, Lucio’s attorneys released a statement, which in part read:

Judge Nelson found that critical information was withheld from the defense at the time of trial and that Lucio ‘met her burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she would not have been convicted in light of the suppressed evidence.’ The case now moves to the CCA, which has the ultimate power to decide whether the conviction should be set aside.”

Melissa Lucio is currently on death row at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas. She has no execution date. Her family hopes that she will one day be able to return home to them after over a decade and a half.

Sources: [X][X][X][X]

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