Courts will consider these four claims to help decide whether Melissa Lucio gets a new trial or stays on death row. 2022-05-01 03:01:59


The mother of 14, her family and her lawyers say she was wrongfully convicted of the death of her young daughter, Maria. While prosecutors at the trial argued that Lucio was an abusive mother who caused the injuries that led to the girl’s death, Lucio’s lawyers said these injuries were the result of a staircase falling two days earlier outside the family’s apartment.

To help decide whether Lucio will get a new trial, the Court of Appeals ordered Lucio’s lower court to review four of the nine lawsuits it raised in its application for a subpoena, which requires the public official to show a valid reason for the person’s detention. .

A lower court-level judge will review her application and the prosecutors’ response before making a recommendation to the state appeals court, which will decide whether to get a new trial. It is not clear how long this process will take.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that takes no position on the death penalty but does have a critique of its management.

Dunham added that “the stay of execution and pre-trial detention for consideration of these allegations is critical,” describing this week’s ruling as “an open door, the threshold that had to be crossed for Melissa Lucio to spend her day in court.”

Here, we’ll detail these four allegations and what Lucio and her lawyers are all about.

John Lucio, left, prays with his wife, Michelle Lucio, center, and Jennifer Almon, executive director of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Texas, before a hearing on his mother by the Temporary Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform.

Claim 1: No juror will indict Lucio without perjury.

The first prosecution asserts that Lucio was remanded into custody on the basis of false testimony by the medical experts and state investigators who questioned Lucio on the night her daughter died. (It is worth nothing that the legal standard that Lucio’s team sought to meet did not require evidence that the state knew this testimony was false, according to the habeas corpus, but gave the jury a false impression.)

Court documents showed that, at the time of her death, Maria’s body was covered in bruises “in various stages of recovery”, her arm had been broken several weeks earlier, and she had what authorities believed was a bite mark on her back.

Her lawyers say authorities determined that Maria’s injuries were abuse and proceeded to confirm this theory while ignoring evidence that might prove Lucio’s innocence.

Hours after Maria’s death, Lucio was questioned by investigators, including a Texas Ranger who testified at Lucio’s state trial. He claimed, according to a subpoena, that he knew Lucio was guilty based on her behavior: Her head was low and she was avoiding eye contact — signs of her guilt, he said.

& # 39;  This is my mother.  I know she is innocent.  & # 39;  The calls for mercy grow days before Melissa Lucio is appointed to implement

It has since been proven that this testimony is “unsubstantiated by scientific validity and error,” as stated in Lucio’s habeas corpus application. Citing a neuroscientist, he says that the scientific consensus today is that there is no basis for the idea that certain movements of the face and body can reveal a person’s mental state.

Lucio’s lawyers say the medical examiner who performed Maria’s autopsy also provided false testimony.

A forensic doctor – who determined that blunt force trauma was the cause of Maria’s death – was told Lucio had admitted abusing the children. The habeas corpus says this knowledge “marred” the autopsy and its findings, and the medical examiner failed to review other parts of Maria’s medical history, including her problems walking and documenting the history of a fall due to her foot.

During the trial, the state medical examiner testified that the injuries could only have been caused by abuse, noting over the course of her testimony severe bruising across Maria’s body, a broken arm several weeks before her death and alleged bite marks on her back.

But Lucio’s lawyers, citing medical experts, offered other explanations for the injuries: Maria showed signs of a blood clotting disorder that can lead to severe bruising, they say, and a broken arm is not uncommon in young children, especially those with a history of injury. the fall.

Common causes of the blood disorder are head trauma — such as the one she suffered in falling down steep steps — and infection, which Maria appears to have been battling when she died, according to a habeas corpus. Since then, evidence and analyzes of bite marks have been identified as “invalid and unreliable,” she says, noting that forensic dentists have found expert testimonies identifying injuries as a human bite mark “without scientific basis.”

As a result, the testimony of these witnesses was false, Lucio’s lawyers argue, giving her the right to compensation.

CNN has reached out to attorneys general and the Texas Rangers and medical examiners for comment.

Claim 2: New scientific evidence will prevent the conviction of Lucio

Lucio’s second claim to be reviewed by the lower court says that scientific evidence previously unavailable would have prevented a jury from establishing Lucio’s guilt.

As part of this allegation, Lucio’s lawyers are also working to have her alleged confession dropped.

Lucio was convicted, in part, they said, on the basis of statements she made to authorities in an hour-long “presumption of guilt” interrogation on the night her daughter died. These vague indications that she was responsible for some of Maria’s injuries – but not the admission of guilt in her death, they say – were presented at trial as a confession.

But Lucio’s statements bear the hallmarks of false confession, they said, citing two experts — something that Lucio’s second claim says she was particularly vulnerable to making given her history as a lifelong survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Lucio’s legal team said she denied hurting Maria more than 100 times during her interrogation. But after hours of interrogation, they said, she “responded with a parrot” to the language suggested to her by investigators and then presented the alleged abuse to a dummy based on the investigators’ instructions, as stated in the subpoena.

Lucio was particularly vulnerable to pressure from investigators given her “long history of trauma”. Her lawyers say this is also new evidence that was not available at the time of her trial, and the jury did not hear expert testimony about a false confession.

Her lawyers argue that if that happened, she likely wouldn’t have been convicted.

Claim 3: Evidence shows that Lucio is innocent

This claim argues that the evidence presented by Lucio’s team and expert reports together refutes every element of the prosecution’s case against Ms. Lucio, as stated in the subpoena.

Given the evidence, much of which is outlined above, no “rational juror would have found Ms. Lucio guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. Executing an innocent person also violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, her due process rights and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, she said.

Melissa Lucio holds her son John in an undated photo.

Claim 4: The state suppressed evidence supporting Lucio’s defence

The latest claim returned to lower court for review alleges that prosecutors suppressed evidence that would have helped Lucio by not sharing it with her lawyer, undermining her conviction and violating her due process rights.

This evidence included information from a Child Protective Services investigator who interviewed some of Lucio’s other children, who confirmed Maria’s fall and deteriorating health and downplayed allegations of abuse by their mother.

Melissa Lucio's execution was interrupted days before hers.  Here's what we know

Lucio’s lawyers also claim that the Maria brothers’ statements to the police were suppressed: Instead of providing Lucio’s defense attorneys with their sworn statements, prosecutors submitted defense summaries that “omitted” potentially denial information, the habeas corpus states.

The document says that this alleged evidence would have emerged: the authorities learned that there were witnesses who said that Lucio had not abused her children; There were other members of the family who knew that Maria had fallen down the stairs; And Maria showed no sign of injury to her arm in the weeks leading up to her death, among other things.

The expert says that the suspension of execution sends a message

Dunham told CNN that a moratorium on executions is “extremely good news” and “crucial” for Lucio, but it “does not guarantee any particular outcome.”

But it does send a message “that courts need to pay more attention to innocence cases,” he said, referring not only to Lucio but also to Rodney Reed, another Texas death row inmate. who also claimed his innocence which will be heard by the Supreme Court.

“We hope the message is that we should not deprive potentially innocent people of their day in court,” said the director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

For Lucio, her lawyers acknowledged that there is a long way to go. But they are optimistic: Monday’s ruling “opens the door to the possibility of a new trial,” said Vanessa Botkin, director of special litigation at the Innocence Project, “and, ultimately, a complete acquittal.”