Who Is Melissa Lucio, Facing Execution in Texas
Melissa Lucio faces execution on April 27 for the accidental death of her daughter.
02.07.22 By Innocence Staff
In 2007, Melissa Lucio’s 2-year-old daughter, Mariah, died after a tragic, accidental fall down a flight of stairs. But Ms. Lucio and her family never got to mourn the loss of her youngest daughter because, within hours of her passing, they were swept up into a nightmare that has lasted more than 14 years and torn their family apart.
Any chance Ms. Lucio and her family had to grieve and heal was stolen by the corrupt prosecutor whose office tried her case and the State of Texas when she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her daughter and sentenced to death in 2008. Ms. Lucio is scheduled to be executed on April 27, 2022, even though several judges have concluded her trial was unfair.
Ms. Lucio’s conviction reflects a series of injustices, failures of the criminal legal system, and the devastating impact of generational trauma. Her conviction and death sentence for a crime that never happened compounded that trauma. And, if Texas rushes ahead with the execution of an innocent mother, the irreversible injustice will fracture her family even further and ensure the pain and trauma experienced thus far will be passed on to another generation.
Here’s what you need to know about Melissa Lucio’s case.
Who is Melissa Lucio?
Ms. Lucio is a survivor of lifelong, repeated sexual assault and domestic violence, who grew up in a Catholic, Mexican-American family living below the poverty line in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. When Ms. Lucio was just 6, two adult male relatives began sexually abusing her, preying on her when her mother was not home. It was the start of a pattern of sexual abuse and assault that continued for several years.
Ms. Lucio endured abuse throughout her childhood and into her teenage years, until, desperate to escape her situation, she became a child bride at 16. Although she was below the legal age of marriage in Texas, Ms. Lucio’s mother consented to her child’s marriage.
Instead of helping her to escape the trauma of her childhood, Ms. Lucio’s husband perpetuated the cycle of abuse. He was violent toward her and also abused alcohol and sold drugs. Still a minor and unable to leave the abusive marriage, Ms. Lucio was trapped and developed a substance use problem. She had five children with her husband before he left the family, abandoning the young mother to fend for herself.
She ultimately had nine children, including Mariah, with her next partner. He, too, was abusive, repeatedly raping her, choking her, and threatening to kill her. Ms. Lucio gave birth to their youngest children together — twin boys — while in jail and had to give them up for adoption due to her wrongful incarceration. The rest of her children were split up and sent to live with relatives or placed in the custody of the state.
Though her family lived in poverty and experienced homelessness at times, Ms. Lucio was a loving and caring mother, despite struggling to provide financially for her family.
She is currently one of six women on Texas’ death row, and the only Latina woman sentenced to death in the state’s history.
What happened on the day of Mariah’s death
- On Feb. 15, 2007, Mariah fell down a flight of stairs while the family was in the process of moving homes. The toddler had a mild physical disability — her feet were turned to the side — making her unstable while walking and prone to tripping. Mariah did not appear injured after the fall, but two days later, Ms. Lucio put her daughter down for a nap, and the child did not wake up. The child was taken to the hospital where she was declared dead. Rushing to judgment, detectives took Ms. Lucio in for interrogation that same night.
- In the interrogation room, officers berated and intimidated Ms. Lucio, who was pregnant and still reeling from the loss of her child, for five hours. Research has shown that survivors of sexual abuse and violence, like Ms. Lucio, are more vulnerable to falsely confessing under such coercive conditions.
- During her interrogation, detectives used coercive techniques known to lead to false confessions, including “maximization and minimization” — exaggerating the strength of or bluffing about evidence and potential charges and while also downplaying the seriousness of the situation and even implying a more lenient charge.
- Ms. Lucio repeatedly maintained her innocence during the interrogation. When shown a photo of her daughter, sobbing, she said, “I wish it was me.” But the interview continued until 3 a.m. and only stopped after Ms. Lucio — physically and emotionally exhausted — acquiesced to the detectives’ demands, saying “I guess I did it” in the hopes that they would end the interrogation.