Melissa Lucio: 10 Facts You Should Know About This Innocent Woman Facing Execution

Ms. Lucio is facing execution on April 27 for a crime that never occurred.

02.11.22 By Innocence Staff

Melissa Lucio: 10 Facts You Should Know About This Innocent Woman Facing Execution

Updated on April 18, 2022, 7:30 p.m. ET: This article has been updated to reflect the latest news in this case.

Updated on March 25, 2022, 2:30 p.m. ET: This article has been updated to reflect the latest news in this case.

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. 

The State of Texas has scheduled Ms. Lucio’s execution for April 27, for a crime that never occurred. On Feb. 8, attorneys for Ms. Lucio filed a motion to withdraw or modify her looming execution date, and on March 22, her legal team filed a petition for clemency to the governor and Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. But Ms. Lucio’s life is still in jeopardy. On April 15, Ms. Lucio’s attorneys filed a habeas petition with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seeking a stay of her execution and arguing that she deserves a new trial because she is innocent and the State relied on false evidence, and hid favorable evidence, to convict her.

Read and share these key facts before Texas makes the irreversible mistake of killing an innocent woman. 

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. Melissa has maintained her innocence for over 14 years. 

Ms. Lucio has maintained her innocence on death row for more than 14 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. Melissa 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 Melissa’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.