Favorable evidence was withheld from Melissa Lucio during death penalty trial

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The Cameron County District Attorney’s Office and appellate attorneys for Death Row inmate Melissa Lucio agree that favorable evidence was “withheld” from the defense during her 2008 trial.

She was convicted in July 2008 of the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Mariah Alvarez, and was sentenced to death.

Lucio has maintained her innocence and said that her daughter died following a fall down a staircase at her Harlingen apartment. She has also maintained that she falsely confessed following about five hours of interrogation at the Harlingen Police Department.

Her appeal has garnered national attention, which gained traction with the 2020 documentary, “The State of Texas vs. Melissa.”

Lucio was nearly executed on April 27, 2022, but on April 18, 2022, Lucio filed a writ of habeas corpus that claimed the state used false testimony; previously unavailable scientific evidence would preclude her conviction; that she is actually innocent; and that the state suppressed favorable, material evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, which stipulates that prosecutors must turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys.

It is that last issue that prosecutors and Lucio’s appellate attorneys agree on, which is the subject of a Jan. 11 agreed findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Vanessa Potkin, who is Lucio’s appellate attorney and who is with the Innocence Project, and Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz released a joint statement to MyRGV.com regarding the development.

That statement references the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, or CCA, stay of execution and how that court ordered the trial court to consider new evidence along with other claims regarding the fairness and reliability of Lucio’s conviction.

“Following CCA’s remand and in response to the Court’s directive, the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office undertook further review of Melissa’s case,” the statement reads.

It then references the agreed findings of fact and conclusions of law submitted to the trial court.

“This joint filing acknowledges that Melissa’s legal team did not have access to information favorable to her defense at the time of trial, thereby entitling her to habeas corpus relief from her conviction and sentence,” the statement reads. “The Agreed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are under review by the trial court.

“Under Texas procedure the trial court must make a recommendation to the CCA which is the only court that can vacate a conviction. We are hopeful that Melissa’s case will be resolved.”

Melissa Lucio’s sister Sonya Valencia Alvarez shares her memories of Lucio and her children Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, during a media event to announce their state-wide education tour about her case in their mother’s home in Harlingen. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)


On April 25, 2022, just two days before her scheduled execution, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined that those four claims met the requirements for her writ of habeas corpus and stayed her execution.

In the agreed Jan. 11 findings, which has yet to be signed by a judge, the parties agreed that Lucio is entitled to relief on the claim that had that exculpatory evidence been provided to Lucio at her trial, there’s a reasonable probability that the outcome “would have been different.”

During that trial, Lucio argued that her child died during the fall and the evidence that had been “withheld” included firsthand statements about Alvarez’s deteriorating condition following that fall that would have corroborated Lucio’s defense that her child died from a head injury sustained during that accidental fall two days before her death.

“The Court finds that the suppressed evidence would have led defense counsel to further investigate additional evidence confirming that accidental cause of death and non-abuse explanations for the extensiveness of the child’s bruising,” the findings stated.

The evidence in question includes Child Protective Services, or CPS, reports and sworn statements from her children that the parties agree were suppressed at trial.

“Collectively, the suppressed evidence was material in that it undermines confidence in the outcome of Applicant’s capital conviction because it provides evidentiary support for the defense theory that Mariah’s death resulted from an accidental head wound consistent with a fall down the stairs,” the findings stated.

The first piece of evidence that was suppressed was a CPS investigation report.

While Lucio and her husband, Robert Alvarez, were being questioned at the Harlingen Police Department, a CPS investigator was also interviewing witnesses, including Lucio’s children, which detectives had knowledge of.

“The Court finds that, rather than disclose Arreola’s Investigative Report, the State produced to defense counsel a document that purported to represent Investigator Arreola’s work on the case … but omitted critical aspects of the full report, including the descriptions of Arreola’s interviews with five of Applicant’s children, which she conducted on the night of Mariah’s death, at the Harlingen Police Department, while Applicant and her husband were being questioned,” the findings stated.

Those interviews reveal that one of Lucio’s children, Robert “Bobby” Alvarez, who was 7 at the time, was present when the 2 year old fell.

“Applicant’s teenaged daughter Alexandra stated that she saw bruises on Mariah’s eye ‘from when she fell at the previous apartment,’” the findings stated.

That CPS report also revealed that all of Lucio’s children told the CPS investigator that their mother wasn’t abusive to them or to her toddler daughter and that one of her children said “he has never seen anyone hit Mariah.”

Another of Lucio’s children told the CPS investigator that she “didn’t believe that her [mother] would hit Mariah” and that the only discipline she used was spanking them on the butt.

“Two other children, Rene (age 9) and Selina (age 15) likewise told Investigator Arreola that they had never seen their mother hit Mariah or her other children,” the findings stated.

That report also included information that Alvarez’s condition declined following the fall in the days before her death.

“Specifically, Alexandra told Investigator Arreola that ‘Maria had been throwing up,’ which Applicant ‘thought … was because she ate a bad tamale,’ and that Mariah then stopped eating,” the findings stated.

It also showed that Alvarez was having difficulty breathing the night before she died.

“Additionally, while the prosecution at trial attributed Mariah’s dehydration at the time of death to abuse, the suppressed report contains Alexandra’s account that Applicant repeatedly tried to get Mariah to drink something in the two days between her fall and her death, and that Applicant was visibly distressed by Mariah’s deteriorating condition,” the findings stated.

Juan Hernandez and Juanita Hernandez hug Esperanza “Hope” Trevino of Harlingen. Esperanza is Juanita’s sister and the mother of Melissa Lucio. They embraced during a vigil at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle National Shrine on Friday, April 22, 2022 in San Juan. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])


Those findings also stipulate that two sworn statements to police by two of Lucio’s children that contained favorable evidence were also suppressed.

“Instead of providing the defense with Alexandra and Daniella’s full sworn statements from the night Mariah died, prosecutors gave the defense only summaries of their statements that omitted the exculpatory information discussed directly below,” the findings stated.

The statements again corroborated Lucio’s account of her child’s injuries and declining health in the days between her fall and her death.

“Further, Alexandra’s observation of Applicant’s concern for Mariah over a 48-hour period prior to her death contradicted other evidence that Applicant inflicted a fatal head wound on Mariah within 24 hours of her death and then showed little concern as to her condition,” the findings stated.

That statement said Lucio and her husband were awake all night with the 2 year old the night before her death because she “had been breathing heavily.”

The other statement said that the child “looked really healthy and active” two weeks before her death and that she “didn’t notice anything to be wrong with her.”

“Daniella likewise averred that on the day of her death Applicant was ‘worried’ about Mariah because she had been ‘sleeping all day’ and ‘wouldn’t eat,’ because Mariah would close her mouth very tight and wouldn’t open it,” the findings stated. “Daniella also observed Maria ‘breathing heavily.’ Further, Daniella informed police that, before she died, Alexandra had called her to tell her about Mariah’s fall down (the) steps.”

Lastly, the parties agree that the cumulative impact of the suppressed evidence “provides evidentiary support for the defense that Mariah’s head injury was accidental, and counters the State’s evidence that the injuries could have only been the result of intentional abuse.”

“Further, the parties agree and this Court finds that disclosure of the suppressed evidence would have allowed defense counsel to present evidence to establish a fall occurred and to meaningfully challenge testimony suggesting that Applicant was lying about Mariah’s accidental fall,” the findings stated.

At trial, a detective testified that only Lucio alleged her child fell down the stairs and that there was no physical evidence to corroborate that assertion.

“Had defense counsel been aware of the contemporaneous witness statements provided to police and CPS workers that corroborated Applicant’s account of Mariah’s fall, the defense could have meaningfully challenged Det. Cruz’s testimony that implied Applicant made up the fall,” the findings stated.

This suppressed evidence has been provided to a forensic pathologist and a law enforcement expert who have concluded that the child’s cause of death “was an accidental fall resulting in head trauma.”

“The Court finds that the cumulative effect of the suppressed evidence discussed above was material and that there is a reasonable probability that, in light of all the evidence in this case, the outcome of Applicant’s case would have been different had the withheld evidence been timely disclosed,” the findings stated.

Lucio is incarcerated at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Patrick L. O’ Daniel facility in Gatesville, Texas.