An appeals court in Texas has halted the execution of Melissa Lucio, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, over questions about her innocence and concerns over the trial that led to her conviction.
The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas issued a stay of execution Monday and sent that case back to a lower court for review, a decision that was met with praise by her attorneys, criminal justice advocates and Lucio herself.
“I am grateful the Court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence,” she said in a statement provided by her legal team.
Lucio was convicted 14 years ago of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Mariah, and later sentenced to death.
But Lucio and her family have long maintained her innocence. Mariah had sustained injuries from a fall shortly before her death, according to her attorneys. And supporters say police coerced a false confession out of Lucio, who was then unable to provide a complete defense at trial.
“Mariah is in my heart today and always,” Lucio added in her statement. “I am grateful to have more days to be a mother to my children and a grandmother to my grandchildren.”
Two hours after Mariah died, police began to question Lucio, who was then pregnant with twins.
During the five-hour interrogation, Lucio professed her innocence more than 100 times until she eventually said, “I guess I did it,” when asked if she was responsible for some of her daughter’s injuries.
Her legal team says the problems with Lucio’s prosecution continued at trial, where they argue the jury heard “unscientific false” evidence that misled them into reaching a guilty verdict.
“Melissa is entitled to a new, fair trial. The people of Texas are entitled to a new, fair trial,” said Tivon Schardl, a federal public defender who is one of Lucio’s attorneys.
“Texans should be grateful and proud that the Court of Criminal Appeals has given Melissa’s legal team the opportunity to present the new evidence of Melissa’s innocence to the Cameron County district court,” Schardl added.
Lucio’s quest for a new trial has the support of both Republican and Democratic Texas lawmakers, a group of whom signed a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles asking them to grant her clemency, Houston Public Media reported.