Melissa Lucio, the Mexican-American woman held on death row accused of the 2007 murder of her daughter, has been granted a last-minute stay of execution by the Texas court of criminal appeals.
Lucio was set to be executed within 48 hours, but the appeal court granted the stay and ordered a lower court to consider new evidence that may prove her conviction to be unreliable.
The 52-year-old was found guilty of capital murder in 2008 and sentenced to death, following the death of her two-year-old daughter Mariah. Prosecutors successfully argued that Mariah had died as a result of abuse at the hands of her mother.
New evidence presented by Lucio’s legal team though suggests that the death was a tragic accident rather than murder. Eye-witness testimony states that Mariah had fallen down a steep flight of stairs prior to her death, this was written off as a cause of death by the pathologist that gave evidence at the trial, but that expert opinion is now being called into question.
As the execution date approached, calls for a stay of execution grew louder, with both Democratic and Republican politicians voicing support for a review of the new evidence.
The court finally granted a stay less than two days before the scheduled execution.
In a statement, Lucio thanked the court for giving her the opportunity to “live and prove my innocence,” adding that “Mariah is in my heart today and always.”
Sandra Babcock, one of Lucio’s legal representatives, expressed her confidence that a review of the new evidence would lead to a retrial and ultimately Lucio’s acquittal. The evidence being reviewed was not submitted in the original 2008 trial, and five members of the jury from that trial have said they would not have convicted Lucio if information now in the public domain had been available at the time.
Prosecutors relied on a confession made by Lucio, that was later shown to have been made as a result of severe coercion with the suspect seemingly in a state of mental distress.
Babcock said: “Melissa’s life matters. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and intimate partner violence, and now locked away for these past 15 years, Melissa’s voice and experiences have never been valued. The Court’s decision signals its willingness to finally hear Melissa’s side of the story.”