Melissa Lucio attorneys seek recusal of judge, district attorney

The attorneys representing a Harlingen mother who is on death row for killing her toddler daughter have filed a motion seeking the recusal of the Cameron County district attorney and a state District Court judge from the case.

The recusal motion, which was filed Friday morning, is asking that District Attorney Luis V. Saenz and 138th state District Judge Gabriela Gabby Garcia withdraw from prosecuting and trying the case because two key members of Lucio’s defense team now work for the Saenz and Garcia.

Peter Gilman, Lucio’s defense attorney in her 2008 capital murder trial, is now an assistant district attorney for the Cameron County DA’s office. Irma Gilman, Garcia’s court administrator, also served on Lucio’s 2008 defense team.

“Judge Garcia’s and D.A. Saenz’s roles in this case have the effect of obstructing Melissa Lucio’s access to evidence. As Ms. Lucio’s defense team at trial, Peter Gilman and Irma Gilman have a duty to cooperate with Ms. Lucio’s current counsel. But as long as D.A. Saenz is on the case, Peter Gilman’s conflict of interest prevents him from cooperating with Ms. Lucio’s current attorneys. And as long as Judge Garcia is on the case, Irma Gilman can’t cooperate with Ms. Lucio’s counsel because it would be a prohibited ex parte communication,” said Tivon Schardl, Chief of the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Defender for the Western District of Texas, and Melissa Lucio’s attorney, in a media release.

In a statement to The Brownsville Herald, Saenz said: “We will be filing a timely response on behalf of the State of Texas.”

The Brownsville Herald also reached out to Garcia for comment but as of Friday afternoon had not received a reply.

The motion against Garcia cites the following reasons:

>> There is a conclusive presumption that court administrator Gilman shared with her employer, Judge Garcia confidential information that Mrs. Gilman obtained through her work on Ms. Lucio’s case.

>> Judge Garcia’s disqualification nullifies the order and warrant setting Ms. Lucio’s execution date.

>> Judge Garcia’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned based on her court administrator’s direct role in Ms. Lucio’s defense.

>> Judge Garcia’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned based on the role her court administrator in current and anticipated proceedings.

In seeking Garcia’s recusal this also calls that she recall the execution warrant that she signed on Jan. 13, 2022 setting Lucio’s execution date.

The motion against Saenz cites the following reasons:

>> Peter Gilman’s dual role as an assistant district attorney and predecessor counsel for Ms. Lucio disqualifies the CCDA.

>> Irma Gilman’s dual role as a paralegal in the CCDA and former paralegal on Ms. Lucio’s trial team disqualifies the CCDA.

>> DA Saenz’s refusal to recuse himself is in conflict with his statutory duty to see that justice is done and violates Ms. Lucio’s right to due process.

The motion states that although Lucio’s attorneys have made numerous attempts to reach Saenz by telephone and email, he has not acknowledged these communications. “As of this date (Feb 18) DA Saenz has not responded to counsel’s communication regarding the issues raised here.”

A Cameron County jury in 2008 found her guilty on one count of capital murder for causing the death of Mariah Alvarez. The little girl had been beaten. Lucio denies killing her daughter.

On the night of Mariah’s death on Feb. 17, 2007, Lucio told police and EMS personnel that Mariah had fallen down some stairs, according to federal court documents.

Later that night, during a videotaped interview with investigators, Lucio explained that she had caused the bruises on Mariah’s body by spanking Mariah “real hard”… and Lucio said “nobody else would hit her.”

During an interview with a Texas Ranger Lucio later admitted she was responsible for her daughter’s death, prosecutors said. Lucio’s appeal’s attorney says she was coerced to confess.

Lucio’s execution date is scheduled for April 27.