Group asks DA to rescind execution as Saenz stands by verdict in Melissa Lucio case

A non-profit organization attempting to get a Harlingen woman off death row for killing her toddler daughter in 2007 has reached out to Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz via a petition seeking help.

Melissa Lucio

The group is asking Saenz to rescind the execution warrant he requested on Jan. 13 seeking an April execution date for Melissa Lucio. They also want him to watch the documentary “The State of Texas vs Melissa.”

The petition reads in part “This petition asks Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz to “Please rescind (withdraw) the execution warrant, and to watch the film, The State of Texas vs. Melissa.” After you sign the petition, please also call the district attorneys office at 956-544-0849 to POLITELY make the same request. Ask for the District Attorney’s office.”

Judge Gabriela Garcia, of the138th state District Court, on Jan 14, signed an order setting an April 27, execution date.

Saenz on Monday declined to comment on this new petition and stated he stood by a statement he made on Jan. 14.

In that statement the district attorney said: “The condition of Mariah’s body indicated that she had been severely beaten. There were bruises in various states of healing covering her body, there were bite marks on her back, one of her arms had been broken probably about 2 to 7 weeks prior to her death and she was missing portions of her hair where it had been pulled out by the roots. Her autopsy revealed bruised kidneys, a bruised spinal cord and bruised lungs. The emergency room physician testing that this was the ‘absolute worst’ case of child abuse that he had seen in his 30 years of practice.”

Saenz said Lucio has filed at least six different appeals and all were dismissed or denied by the courts, including the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

“ The time has come to finally carry out the sentence legally imposed by a jury of her peers and for justice for 2-year-old Mariah,” the district attorney said.

A Cameron County jury in 2008 found Lucio guilty in the beating death of her 2-year-old daughter Mariah, and Lucio was sentenced to death. Regardless, Lucio has denied beating her daughter or causing her death.

Lucio’s lawyer, A. Richard Ellis, had stated, “Melissa Lucio is a battered woman who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for the accidental death of her daughter, who had fallen down the stairs at the family’s home. Her conviction rested on ambiguous statements Melissa made to police in response to a coercive, late-night interrogation by male police officers. We will fight not only to prevent Melissa’s execution but also to win her exoneration of these false charges.” Organizers are seeking 51,200 signatures on the petition that will be submitted to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles seeking Abbott grant Lucio clemency.

The group initially sought 25,000 signatures. As of Monday afternoon, 26,071 individuals have signed the petition.

Lucio appealed her conviction; The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned a Texas Court ruling and found that Lucio’s right to a “complete defense” had been violated in her original trial, the petition states.

In February 2021, the same court nullified the decision upon a rehearing and reinstated Lucio’s death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court in October 2021 declined to hear Lucio’s case., states that “The State of Texas vs. Melissa,” a 2020 documentary by Sabrina Van Tassel, outlines alleged missteps that took place in Melissa’s trial:

  • Lucio’s lawyers have contested the cause of death, presenting expert testimony from a neurosurgeon that Mariah may instead have died from head trauma caused by falling down a flight of stairs, a fall that was witnessed by Melissa’s children.
  • Lucio’s original lawyer did not call any of her children as witnesses, including the ones who saw Mariah fall down the stairs. What’s more, he willingly ignored evidence that another child had admitted being abusive to Mariah. Right after the trial, the attorney became a Cameron County prosecutor.
  • Raw footage shows the interrogation, which lasted almost seven hours on the night of Mariah’s death, to be coercive.
  • Dr. John Pinkerman, a psychologist, and Norma Villanueva, a mitigation specialist, hoped to testify that Lucio was susceptible to making a false confession during a coercive investigation, were both barred by the trial court from testifying as to her innocence during the guilt/innocence phase of her trial.
  • Armando Villalobos, the district attorney who prosecuted Lucio’s case, was convicted of bribery and extortion in 2014 for accepting over $100,000 in exchange for favorable outcomes in criminal trials. He is now serving a 13-year sentence in prison. He was known to bribe judges and lawyers and was suspected of using Melissa’s case to be re-elected.