Melissa Lucio’s execution delayed by Texas court

Mother convicted of beating daughter, 2, to death was set for lethal injection this week

Texas death row inmate Melissa Lucio holds her baby daughter Mariah, while one of her other daughters, Adriana, stands next to them. AP

A Texas appeals court has delayed the execution of a mother amid increasing doubts about whether she beat her 2-year-old daughter to death.

Melissa Lucio's case has drawn support from politicians, celebrities and several of the jurors who convicted her.

She was due to be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday for killing her daughter Mariah in 2007 in Harlingen, a city of about 75,000 people on Texas’s southern tip.

Prosecutors say the girl was the victim of abuse, whose body was covered in bruises. Ms Lucio’s lawyers say Mariah died from injuries she sustained in a fall down a steep staircase several days before she died.

“I am grateful the court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence,” Lucio said in a statement provided by her lawyers on Monday.

“Mariah is in my heart today and always. I am grateful to have more days to be a mother to my children and a grandmother to my grandchildren. I will use my time to help bring them to Christ. I am deeply grateful to everyone who prayed for me and spoke out on my behalf.”

Lucio was first told her execution had been delayed in a phone call with Jeff Leach, a Republican state representative who has helped lead a bipartisan effort to halt her execution, said Vanessa Potkin, one of Lucio’s attorneys who is with the Innocence Project.

“She sobbed. She was just overwhelmed,” said Ms Potkin.

Mr Leach said he was grateful the appeals court had “pushed the pause button on her execution, saving the state of Texas from the irreversible blunder of potentially killing an innocent citizen”.

Mr Leach was part of a bipartisan cohort of state politicians who visited and prayed with Lucio at Gatesville Correctional Facility, where Texas holds women on death row.

Kim Kardashian called the delay of execution “the best news ever".

The reality star said on her Instagram story: “Melisa Lucio has been on death row for over 14 years for her daughter's death that was a tragic accident.”

Kardashian previously said there were “many unresolved questions in Lucio's case”. She has advocated for commuting sentences of several women in the past.

Melissa Lucio bows her head in prayer during a meeting with a bipartisan group of Texas politicians at Gatesville Correctional Facility, Texas. AFP

Lucio's case was also featured on the HBO series Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Her lawyers say her 2008 conviction was based on an unreliable and coerced confession that resulted from long hours of extensive questioning and her history of being sexually and physically abused.

After nearly six hours of interrogation and telling officers more than 100 times that she was not guilty, Lucio said: “I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m responsible for it … I guess I did it.”

Her lawyers say unscientific evidence misled jurors into believing Mariah's injuries could only have resulted from abuse and not from a severe fall.

Five of the jurors in the 2008 trial have questioned the verdict and are now asking for a new trial.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: April 26, 2022, 3:56 PM