87th LegislatureCriminal JusticeIssuesJudicialCourt of Criminal Appeals Blocks Melissa Lucio’s Execution, Orders Trial Court to Examine Innocence Claims

The court decided that Lucio’s innocence claims and allegations of prosecutorial misconduct deserve an examination by the trial court.
April 25, 2022
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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has canceled the execution of 53-year-old Melissa Lucio, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection in Huntsville later this week for the murder of her two-year-old daughter, Mariah.

The court’s decision does not undo her death sentence but requires the trial court to examine some of the issues in one of her appeals.

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), who is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers advocating on Lucio’s behalf, announced the court’s decision on social media.

“Just received word the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted a stay of [Melissa Lucio’s] execution – remanding vital issues back to the trial court and securing justice for Melissa and for Mariah and the entire Lucio family. Praise God!” Leach wrote.

A jury in Cameron County convicted Lucio of capital murder in 2008 and she was sentenced to death. Earlier this year, Democratic Judge Gabriela Garcia of the 138th District Court scheduled Lucio’s execution for April 27.

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The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had not yet announced a decision in Lucio’s case. When asked about her execution last week, Governor Greg Abbott indicated that he was waiting on the board’s recommendation.

The Court of Criminal Appeals sent the case back to Garcia’s courtroom “for a merits’ review” on several grounds, including that Lucio could be innocent and her assertion that the government suppressed evidence that would have helped her case.

The court also rejected several of Lucio’s claims, including that sexism and juror misconduct could have contributed to her conviction.

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) commented on the stay of execution on social media, thanking Leach and Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso).

“I am proud of the interim study committee for Criminal Justice Reform for examining the underlying issues within our criminal justice system that made this stay necessary. Thank you [Leach] and [Moody] for boldly leading this fight,” Phelan wrote.

Leach is the chair of the committee Phelan referenced, while Moody serves as vice-chair. In a committee meeting earlier this month, state representatives called on Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz to request that the execution date be rescinded.

At that hearing, Saenz predicted that the Court of Criminal Appeals would issue a stay.

A copy of a letter sent last month to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles by Texas House members can be found below. This piece has also been updated to include a copy of the stay of execution.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.