Melissa Lucio: 10 Facts You Should Know About This Innocent Woman On Death Row for Crime that Never Occurred

Melissa Lucio has been on death row in Texas for more than 16 years.

02.11.22 By Innocence Staff

Melissa Lucio at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas. (Image: Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Innocence Project)

Melissa Lucio at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas. (Image: Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Innocence Project)

Latest case update from April 12, 2024: The judge who presided over Melissa Lucio’s original trial, Judge Arturo Nelson recommended that that Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturn Ms. Lucio’s conviction and death sentence. That recommendation is now before the Court of Criminal Appeals, which in Texas, is the only court that can overturn a criminal conviction. 


The article below was written in 2022:

In 2008, Melissa Lucio was sentenced to death in Texas for the murder of her 2-year old daughter Mariah, who died two days after a tragic fall down a flight of stairs. In shock and grieving the loss of her baby — the youngest of her 12 children at the time — Ms. Lucio was taken into police custody and immediately blamed for her daughter’s death. 

Two days before her April 2022 execution, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Ms. Lucio a stay of execution and ordered the 138th Judicial District Court of Cameron Country to consider new evidence of her innocence in the death of her daughter, Mariah. 

Read and share these key facts about a woman on death row for a crime that never occurred. 

1. Mariah’s death was a tragic accident, not a murder. 

Mariah fell down a flight of stairs while the family was moving homes on Feb. 15, 2007. The toddler had a mild physical disability that made her unstable while walking and prone to tripping. Two days later, she took a nap and didn’t wake up.

Instead of taking the steps to learn about Mariah’s health history and investigating the causes of her injuries, authorities immediately jumped to the conclusion that she had been murdered and, through a coercive interrogation, pressured Ms. Lucio to make a false statement.

Nearly 1 in 3 exonerated women were wrongly convicted of harming children or other loved ones in their care and over 70% were wrongly convicted of crimes that never took place at all — events that were accidents, deaths by suicide, or fabricated — according to data from the National Registry of Exonerations.

2. Ms. Lucio has maintained her innocence for over 16 years. 

Ms. Lucio has maintained her innocence on death row for more than 16 years. During her interrogation, Ms. Lucio asserted her innocence more than 100 times, until she was manipulated into falsely taking responsibility for some of Mariah’s injuries by police officers. The interrogating officers refused to hear the truth: that Melissa did not, and would not, ever hurt her children.

3. Ms. Lucio was coercively interrogated by police two hours after her daughter died.

Detectives rushed to judgment and, just two hours after Mariah died, took Ms. Lucio in for questioning. During the interrogation, officers berated and intimidated Ms. Lucio, who was pregnant and in shock from the loss of her child, for five hours. They used coercive methods known to produce false confessions. Research has shown that survivors of sexual abuse and violence, like Ms. Lucio, are even more vulnerable to falsely confessing under such coercive conditions. And experts who have reviewed Ms. Lucio’s case, including her interrogation records, have concluded that Ms. Lucio “was relentlessly pressured and extensively manipulated” during the interrogation.

After several hours of interrogation, Ms. Lucio said, “I guess I did it,” and made other incriminating statements, to get the officers to end the interrogation. Her inadvertent statement was then characterized by the prosecution as a confession to murder. Two of the officers who interrogated Ms. Lucio were present at Mariah’s autopsy, leading to a biased autopsy process, and an incomplete investigation into Mariah’s health history and causes of her injuries and death.

4. False and misleading evidence was presented at Ms. Lucio’s trial.

At Ms. Lucio’s trial, the medical examiner testified that the bruises and injuries on Mariah’s body could only have been caused by abuse. However, pathologists who have reviewed the evidence have concluded that this testimony was false. Mariah’s autopsy showed signs of a blood coagulation disorder, which causes profuse bruising throughout the body. At the time of her death, Mariah was healing from an injury to her arm, which the medical examiner also said was a sign of abuse. However, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who reviewed the evidence concluded that the medical examiner’s testimony was misleading and “there is nothing about” Mariah’s “fracture that indicates that it was the result of an intentional act or abuse”  This was an extremely common type of injury among toddlers that can result from a fall from standing height.  

The medical examiner also testified at trial that a mark on Mariah’s body were bite marks. Bite mark analysis has been wholly discredited since Ms. Lucio’s trial because it has no scientific basis. Studies have shown that even trained forensic dentists can’t agree whether or not an injury is a bite mark. In 2016, in recognition of the fact that bite mark evidence lacks scientific validity and following the exoneration of a man in Texas convicted based on faulty bite mark evidence, the Texas Forensic Science Commission recommended a state-wide moratorium on the use of bite mark evidence in criminal cases.

5. The state presented no evidence that Melissa abused any of her children.

Thousands of pages of Child Protective Services records show that Ms. Lucio’s 12 children never said she was violent with them and no case workers noted signs of abuse. No physical evidence showed otherwise.

“The State presented no physical evidence or witness testimony establishing that Lucio abused Mariah or any of her children, let alone killed Mariah,” Judge Catharina Haynes wrote on behalf of the seven dissenting judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. “The jury was deprived of key evidence to weigh: that is the point.”

Ms. Lucio struggled at times to provide for her family, but was a caring mother, who did her best given her incredibly difficult circumstances.

6. Ms. Lucio is a survivor of a lifetime of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Ms. Lucio is a survivor of life-long, repeated sexual assault and domestic violence. She was sexually abused by family members beginning at the age of 6.

Ms. Lucio endured abuse throughout her childhood and into her teenage years. At 16, she became a child bride to escape. However, Ms. Lucio’s husband perpetuated the cycle of abuse. Still a minor and unable to leave the abusive marriage, Ms. Lucio was trapped and developed a substance use problem. Her husband later abandoned her and their five children.

Ms. Lucio had nine more children, including Mariah.  Her next partner, who was also abusive, repeatedly raped her, and threatened to kill her. A psychologist who reviewed recent testing of Melissa said that Melissa has “highly abnormal” levels of vulnerability to police coercion because of her background.