News 04.11.22

‘Texas Is Executing An Innocent Woman,’ Says False Confessions Expert Dr. Gudjonsson

Dr. Gudjonsson called Melissa Lucio’s case ‘one of the most tragic’ he’s seen in his 40-year career.

By Innocence Staff

A detective interrogating Melissa Lucio for five-hours, just two hours after her daughter died from a tragic accident.

With just 16 days until the scheduled execution of Melissa Lucio, a woman sentenced to death for a murder that never happened, numerous experts on false confessions — including those who specialize in how trauma survivors are vulnerable to false confessions — are speaking out in support of clemency for the mother of 12.

On Wednesday, Dr. Gisli H. Gudjonsson, the world’s leading expert on compliance, suggestibility, and false confessions voiced his grave concerns about the case in an op-ed published in the Independent.

 

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“Melissa Lucio’s case is one of the most tragic I have come across in my 40-year career as a clinical forensic psychologist,” wrote Dr. Gudjonsson who is Emeritus Professor at the Institute of Psychiatry of King’s College London. Ms. Lucio has been on death row in Texas for 14 years for the death of her 2-year-old daughter Mariah, who died two days after an accidental fall. Just two hours after her daughter passed, officers began interrogating Ms. Lucio. 

 

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Dr. Gudjonsson, who started his career as a police officer, conducted a comprehensive review of Ms. Lucio’s case, interrogation, and recent psychological testing. He submitted a report that was included in the clemency petition filed by Ms. Lucio’s attorneys to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles last month.

Ms. Lucio, who was interrogated for five hours within hours of her infant dying, asserted her innocence more than 100 times. But officers used coercive and manipulative interrogation tactics known to produce false confessions, until Ms. Lucio falsely accepted responsibility for some of her daughter’s injuries.

As a life-long survivor of sexual assault and domestic abuse, Ms. Lucio is particularly vulnerable to succumbing to such aggressive intimidation and coersion. 

In the op-ed, Dr. Gudjonsson highlighted the officers’ use of the controversial Reid interrogation technique, which he said “is guilt-presumptive, uses psychological manipulation to coerce confessions, and has been linked to countless false confessions.”

 

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Nearly 1 in 3 people proven innocent by DNA were wrongly convicted based on false confessions elicited by coercive police interrogation tactics, like those used against Melissa. 

Dr. Gudjonsson found that the investigators failed to show compassion and understanding toward a grieving and sleep deprived mother still in shock from her baby’s death.

“Instead, officers played on her vulnerabilities by relentlessly accusing her of having abused and beaten her daughter to death and being a bad mother,” he wrote. “[They] forced her to enact the alleged beatings on a doll, with one of the investigators instructing her to hit the doll harder and harder, until she complied. By the end of the five hours, in apparent distress, Lucio told officers she wished she was dead.”

Dr. Gudjonsson wrote that Ms. Lucio’s “admissions” were “tentative and inadvertent,” noting that she simply parroted back to the officers the words and narrative that they had suggested to her for the past several hours of her interrogation.

“There was no tangible confession to murder,” he wrote, adding that her “inadvertent admissions” were nevertheless exaggerated by the prosecution and used against Ms. Lucio at her trial.

Dr. Gudjonsson urges Ms. Lucio’s case to be reconsidered and explains that it is “an extraordinarily potent example of how a vulnerable person can be psychologically manipulated into falsely implicating themselves in a crime in response to interrogative pressure.”

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