Melissa Lucio, who spent 14 years in isolation for the murder of her 2-year-old daughter will be executed in Texas next month. Lucio is wrongly convicted according to many independent observers.
Reverend George Burroughs, who was accused of being “a terrible wizard” in Salem Massachusetts, 1692, is said to have bit several girls. According to William James Malone, the New York State Dental Association newsletter editor, Reverend George Burroughs’ mouth was “pried open” and the prosecution compared the marks on his teeth to those left by several girls who had been injured in court.
Burroughs was sent to the gallows by his ostensible match. He was finally exonerated two decades later.
Three hundred years late, in 2007, Lucio and her family—one husband, 12 kids—were getting ready to move. Age 2, her youngest child, tragically fell down stairs. In the space of just two days, she became increasingly lethargic, ate very little, and finally fell asleep.
Family called 911 but paramedics were unable to revive the little girl. At the hospital, she was declared dead. Lucio was arrested by police within three hours after the death of her daughter.
Following a lengthy and intense interrogation, which involved Lucio being forced to spank a doll harder and harder at the interrogator’s urging (“I wouldn’t pound on her,” Lucio protested), Lucio still maintained her innocence. But finally, she admitted, “I don’t know what you want me to say… I guess I did it. It was something I managed to do.
Peter Gilman, her defense lawyer, failed to mention a few details, like that Lucio had admitted under duress that Lucio was guilty of the crime and that people sometimes make false confessions. In fact, one out of every four cases of wrongful convictions overturned by the Innocence Project has involved a false confession.
Lucio’s siblings were interviewed on video by the state. All of them said that Lucio was not abusive to them. One even claimed that Lucio saw her sister falling down stairs. Gilman didn’t put Lucio’s children on the witness stand. But it could be that he wasn’t given the video recordings.
Gilman did not investigate other possible causes of the bruises in the testimony by the medical examiner. Gilman did not present any pathologist to defend the claim that even though it may sound scientific, this is sometimes subjective.
The examiner stated that the one marking on the girl’s body was a bite. It must have been extremely painful.
Vanessa Potkin, special litigation director at Innocence Project told the Innocence Project that this is a prejudicial statement and has no scientific support. Reason in a phone call.
The science of bite marks is so disputed that Texas’s Supreme Court has placed a moratorium against bite mark analyses in the courts.
However, despite many scientific pronouncements about things such as bite and bruise, the problem is that there are often no standards for forensic practice within a particular discipline. This is according to the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Report, Strengthening Forensic Sciences: A Path Forward.
According to the report, even though protocols exist, many are vague and are not implemented.
Except for DNA analysis the report said that “The basic reality is that interpretations of forensic data aren’t always based upon scientific studies to establish its validity.” This is an extremely serious issue.
Lucio filed an appeal and was unsuccessful. A panel of three Judges from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Lucio had been prevented from presenting a full and meaningful defense. The judges unanimously ruled that Lucio did not have a defense. They ordered a new trial.
At that point, the state of Texas asked that the full appeals court—17 judges—hear the case. The majority of the judges agreed that Lucio should be retried. This is where things get a bit complicated. Potkin helped me to understand it. Also, the panel ruled that as a federal judge, they needed to defer to the state courts in this case, which meant they had no choice but to keep the conviction.
This is not the only disturbing thing. Actually, there are three.
First, after the trial, Lucio’s lawyer—Gilman—was hired by the district attorney, Armo Villalobos. This means, in the words of a motion recently filed by Lucio’s appeals team, Gilman now has “dual loyalty” to the defense andTo the prosecutor.
He acted in a duty of loyalty to the DA’s Office, “denying Ms. Lucio due procedure by preventing Mrs. Lucio from obtaining unconflicted cooperation form Mr. Gilman while she investigated whether DA Villalobos had suppressed exulpatory and mitigating evidence during the trial.”
The second wrinkle is that Gilman’s wife, Irma Gilman—who served as his paralegal during the Lucio trial—was also hired by Cameron County. She is now the court administrator for Judge Gabriela Garcia, who is presiding over Lucio’s case and signed her death warrant.
Lucio would also get his death warrant revoked if Garcia did not withdraw herself as Lucio’s lawyers asked.
Luis Saenz (current DA) has said that he would respond “soon.” His response to our request was not immediate.
But, wait! Villalobos was the ex-DA and put Lucio in jail.
This is wrinkle number 3. He’s currently serving a 13 year sentence in Federal Prison for Bribery and Extortion. To secure favorable outcomes in his cases, he took $100,000 from defense lawyers.
Some questions do remain. A documentary about the case raised the possibility that the 2-year-old had been abused by one of Lucio’s other daughters, and perhaps Lucio took the rap for her. In the interim, we should note that Lucio, two-months pregnant at the time of her arrest, had twins in prison as she waited to be tried. As her husband was serving four years for endangering a child—the 2-year-old who died—the twins were immediately put up for adoption.
All in all 13 children were raised without the mother who is currently behind bars.
She will be executed by lethal injection April 22, if nothing else happens.