AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A Texas woman on death row will not die on Wednesday, after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of Melissa Lucio’s execution, halting her execution indefinitely.
The court’s Monday order came just two days before her scheduled death, amid growing doubts about whether she was responsible for the 2007 death of her daughter. Lucio was convicted of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Mariah, in Harlingen 15 years ago.
The case for her innocence has garnered support from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, celebrities like Kim Kardashian, and even some jurors who now say they question the sentence they gave her.
Prosecutors have continued their argument that Mariah was the victim of abuse, noting her body was covered in bruises. The state also argued Lucio had a history of drug abuse and, at times, had lost custody of some of her 14 children. Lucio’s lawyers say new evidence shows Mariah’s injuries were caused by a fall down a steep staircase
They also believe Lucio may have been coerced into confessing to the murder on the day of her daughter’s death. Her lawyers also contend that unscientific and false evidence misled jurors into believing Mariah’s injuries could have been caused only by abuse and not by medical complications from a severe fall.
The court granted their request to pause the execution due to these doubts, allowing for a lower court to examine her attorney’s claims that the new evidence will exonerate her.
“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. “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.”
The execution stay was announced minutes before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had been set to consider Lucio’s clemency application to either commute her death sentence or grant her a 120-day reprieve.
Since the conviction, five of the 12 jurors have publicly stated if they had known about the new evidence, they would not have sentenced her to death.
“I was wrong to sentence Melissa. I pray it is not too late to right the wrongs,” juror Johnny Galvan said on April 12.
“It would have shocked the public’s conscience for Melissa to be put to death based on false and incomplete medical evidence for a crime that never even happened,” said Vanessa Potkin, one of Lucio’s attorneys who is with the Innocence Project. “All of the new evidence of her innocence has never before been considered by any court. The court’s stay allows us to continue fighting alongside Melissa to overturn her wrongful conviction.”
Lawmakers have rallied around Lucio, signing letters and asking the board of pardons and paroles to intervene in Lucio’s execution. Both a supermajority in the Texas House and a group of 20 Texas Senators have sent letters to the board.
“New evidence that has emerged since Ms. Lucio’s trial points to the fact that her daughter, Mariah, died after a tragic accident and not by her mother’s hands,” said the senators in their letter on April 14. “A commutation or a reprieve would give her lawyers the time they need to develop all the evidence that could prove Ms. Lucio’s innocence.”
What’s next for Lucio?
Lucio will go back to trial court in Brownsville, where new evidence will be presented by Lucio’s attorneys. The court will make a recommendation to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which will ultimately decide if she’ll get a new trial.
For the first time, the court will consider whether she should have been convicted in the first place. Lucio’s attorneys say that is rare. She is still technically on death row.
It was not immediately clear which lower court this case will go to.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.