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Texas inmate Melissa Lucio's death sentence should be overturned, judge says

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LA Post: Texas inmate Melissa Lucio's death sentence should be overturned, judge says
April 16, 2024
JUAN A. LOZANO - AP

HOUSTON (AP) — A judge has recommended that the conviction and death sentence of Melissa Lucio, a Texas woman whose execution was delayed in 2022 amid growing doubts she fatally beat her 2-year-old daughter, should be overturned amid findings that evidence in her murder trial was suppressed.

Senior State District Judge Arturo Nelson on Friday approved an agreement between prosecutors and Lucio’s attorneys that found the suppressed evidence, including witness statements from Lucio’s children and a report by Child Protective Services, would have corroborated Lucio’s defense that her daughter Mariah died of a head injury sustained in an accidental fall down a steep staircase two days before her death.

“She would not have been convicted in light of the suppressed evidence,” according to the 33-page agreement between the office of Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz and Lucio’s attorneys.

Nelson’s recommendation has been sent to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will make the final decision on whether Lucio’s conviction and death sentence are overturned. There was no timetable for a ruling by the appeals court. Lucio’s case has become a cause célèbre among people, including Kim Kardashian.

“We hope and pray the Court of Criminal Appeals will agree with the District Attorney, the defense, and Judge Nelson and our mother can come home to her family. It’s been 17 years that we have been without her. We love her and miss her and can’t wait to hug her,” Lucio’s children said in a statement Monday.

The agreement on findings in Lucio’s case had remained in limbo for 16 months before another judge, Gabriela Garcia. On April 5, Lucio’s lawyers and Saenz had issued a joint public statement in which they discussed that the findings were still under review by Garcia.

On April 10, Missy Medary, the presiding judge for the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region in South Texas, assigned Nelson to address the pending findings in the case. Nelson, who is a retired judge and had presided over Lucio’s 2008 trial, approved the findings two days later.

Garcia's court had requested that Nelson be assigned “to address the pending findings and conclusions as he was the trial judge in the case and has direct knowledge of the trial,” Emily Jirovec, an administrative assistant with the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region, said in an email Tuesday.

Lucio, 55, had been set for lethal injection in April 2022 for the 2007 death of her daughter in Harlingen, a city of about 71,000 in Texas’ southern tip. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted her lethal injection two days before her scheduled execution so Lucio’s claims that new evidence would exonerate her could be reviewed.

Before the agreed findings approved by Nelson, prosecutors had long maintained Mariah was the victim of abuse and noted her body was covered in bruises.

Lucio’s case has garnered support from Kardashian and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody.

“Melissa Lucio has been in jail for more than a decade and a half, which is an unimaginable injustice, but one that can at least be undone,” Moody said in a post Tuesday on the social platform X.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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