Judge Says Overturn Conviction, Death Sentence

Lethal injection | Image by Hailshadow/Getty Images

In a significant development in the case of Melissa Lucio, Senior State District Judge Arturo Nelson has recommended overturning her conviction and death sentence.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Lucio, whose execution was delayed in 2022, has maintained her innocence in the 2007 death of her 2-year-old daughter, Mariah.

The recommendation comes after an agreement between prosecutors and Lucio’s attorneys revealed suppressed evidence that could have supported Lucio’s defense. This evidence comprises testimonies from Lucio’s children and a report filed by Child Protective Services. It indicates that Mariah’s fatal injuries could have been caused by an accidental fall down a staircase rather than deliberate abuse, according to the Associated Press.

According to the 33-page agreement between Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz and Lucio’s defense attorneys, Judge Nelson concluded that “she would not have been convicted in light of the suppressed evidence.” The agreement, which Nelson approved on Friday, has been forwarded to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a final decision, per AP.

Lucio’s other children expressed their hope for their mother’s release, saying, “We hope and pray the Court of Criminal Appeals will agree with the District Attorney, the defense, and Judge Nelson, and our mother can come home to her family.”

The agreement on the findings in Lucio’s case remained unresolved for 16 months as Judge Gabriela Garcia reviewed the case. Eventually, Nelson, who presided over Lucio’s trial in 2008, was assigned to review the findings and ultimately approved them within two days.

Lucio, now 55 years old, was scheduled for lethal injection in April 2022 for the death of her daughter a decade and a half prior. However, the execution was halted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals two days before her scheduled execution to review claims of new evidence that could exonerate her, per AP.

Before this recent agreement, prosecutors had maintained that Mariah was a victim of abuse, pointing to the bruises covering her body. However, the revelation of suppressed evidence has cast doubt on the previous narrative, per The Texas Tribune.

Lucio’s case has become a focal point for advocates of criminal justice reform across the nation. Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody emphasized, via social media, the urgency of rectifying what he described as an “unimaginable injustice.”

A majority of the Texas House of Representatives urged the parole board and governor to stop Lucio’s execution in 2022. Their plea has been echoed by a growing number of individuals, including five of Lucio’s former jurors, according to AP.

Additionally, Lucio’s case has garnered attention from various celebrities, a bipartisan coalition of various lawmakers, and consistent support from The Innocence Project. The Innocence Project, established in 1992 by attorneys Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, has led an initiative to prevent and reverse wrongful convictions by presenting evidence analyzed through advanced forensic and scientific processes. The organization claims it has helped free or exonerate hundreds of wrongfully convicted people, according to its website.

In a statement provided by her lawyers in 2022 after the stay of execution was granted, Lucio said she was thankful for her supporters and was “grateful the Court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence. Mariah is in my heart today and always. I am grateful to have more days to be a mother to my children and a grandmother to my grandchildren.”

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