Just two days before Melissa Lucio’s scheduled death date, a Texas court on Monday stayed her execution and remanded her case for review.
Lucio, a mother of 14, has been on Texas death row since 2008, when she was convicted of murdering her 2-year-old daughter the year before. But she, her family and her lawyers say she is innocent and was wrongfully convicted of capital murder.
Prosecutors at trial argued Lucio, now 53, was an abusive mother who caused the injuries that led to the death of her daughter Mariah. Lucio’s lawyers said those injuries were actually the result of falling down the stairs outside the family’s apartment.
Here’s what we know:
On Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay of execution, indefinitely delaying Lucio’s execution and ordering its trial court to consider several claims for relief that his team had brought to light, including his assertion that she is innocent.
The news was celebrated by Lucio, his lawyers and his family, including his son Bobby Alvarez, who told reporters that he and his siblings were trying to decide what to do for Mother’s Day.
Lucio learned of the stay from Texas State Rep. Jeff Leach, who — along with a bipartisan majority in the state legislature — argued his case, calling for clemency or a new trial.
Lucio sobbed Monday upon hearing the news that she would not be put to death on Wednesday, according to an audio recording obtained by CNN.
“I am grateful that the Court gave me the chance to live and prove my innocence,” Lucio said in a statement. “Mariah is in my heart today and always.”
Separately, on Monday, all eyes were on the Texas Board of Pardons and Pardons, which was to vote on a clemency recommendation in Lucio’s case. But minutes before the board’s decision was expected, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued its ruling.
The Council then announced that it would not vote at that time.
Monday’s ruling follows months of work by Lucio’s attorneys, including those at the Innocence Project, and growing pleas for clemency. Besides Texas lawmakers and celebrity Kim Kardashian, Lucio’s arguments were also enough to convince at least five of his jurors to come forward publicly to demand a halt to his execution and a new trial based on evidence they didn’t. have never heard.
The appeals court order returns Lucio’s case to its trial court in the 138th Judicial District of Cameron County, along the border with Mexico at the southern tip of Texas.
The appeals court dismissed or dismissed several claims that Lucio had raised in an application for a writ of habeas corpus — which requires a public official to show good cause for a person’s detention — and ordered the court of first instance to carry out an “examination on the merits”. ”
Brownsville Magistrates Court will hold a proceeding to hear evidence of Lucio’s innocence, said Tivon Schardl, one of Lucio’s attorneys and head of the federal public defender’s capital habeas unit in the Western District of Texas, at a press conference on Monday.
After reviewing his claims and the evidence, the court would then make a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which would ultimately decide whether Lucio would get a new trial.
It’s unclear how long the process might take. “We definitely want Melissa to get her audition as soon as possible,” Schardl said. “We can’t say exactly how long, but we certainly don’t want her to spend one more day in jail than absolutely necessary.”
As the process unfolds, she will remain on death row, her legal team said.
Lucio and his team had raised nine claims with the appeals court, four of which were returned to the trial court. Lucio’s other claims did not meet legal requirements, the appeals court found, and will not be considered.
Of the four:
• The first allegation argues that no juror would have convicted Lucio if prosecutors had not presented false, misleading, and scientifically invalid expert testimony. This includes the medical examiner who, according to Lucio’s request, performed Mariah’s autopsy, “ignored indications that Mariah’s mortal condition had another cause”, and testified that the injuries could not have been caused only by abuse without exploring the fall down the stairs two days before.
• The second claim states that new scientific evidence would prevent Lucio’s conviction. Among their arguments is that Lucio was particularly prone to providing false confessions as a lifelong survivor of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
• The third claim from Lucio’s lawyers states that scientific evidence shows that Mariah was not murdered. Accordingly, they argue, in part, that his execution would violate constitutional guarantees of a right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
• The fourth claim argues that the state suppressed evidence favorable to his defense, violating his due process rights. Among the suppressed evidence, according to her lawyers, are indications that police and prosecutors knew that other family members knew about Mariah’s fall down the stairs and that no one had described the abuse that Mariah would have suffered.
CNN has reached out to prosecutors for comment.
Yes, the decision of the Court of Appeal does not change Lucio’s sentence in any way. And despite Monday’s stay of execution, she remains on death row, Vanessa Potkin, director of special litigation at the Innocence Project, said at a news conference Monday.
The decision, however, delays Lucio’s execution “indefinitely”, Potkin said, while Lucio has his first opportunity to present new evidence of his innocence in court.
“The end result could be that she could get a new trial,” Potkin said, “and we’re confident … if Melissa was retried today, she would be acquitted.”