Time for a break from Söring coverage, gentle readers! Now I’d like to address a real miscarriage of justice, the impending execution of Melissa Lucio on the 27th of April. Unfortunately I’m under deadline so can’t get into it too deeply, but this is a genuinely troubling case. John Oliver presents a good summary in the clip above.
Lucio was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2007 in Cameron County Texas, for the death of her daughter Mariah. At the time of her daughter’s death, she had nine children in her custody, and 3 others in care. She was a deeply troubled woman in an abusive relationship. She was convicted based on questionable forensic evidence about how her infant daughter died, and based on an ambiguous statement (“I’m responsible for it”) she gave during a 5-hour interrogation which happened the day her daughter died. False confessions are rare, but they happen — and this case shows just about all the warning signs of a false confession.
If you would like a detailed account of this complex case, I can recommend this extraordinary document: It’s a 115-page long opinion from the entire Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit of the United States (a conservative court) in which the members split evenly on whether Lucio deserves a new trial. At trial, her lawyers wanted to introduce the testimony of a psychologist, Dr. John Pinkerman, who had studied the case and interviewed Lucio. His testimony would have helped the jury understand why Lucio would have vaguely taken “responsibility” for a crime she didn’t commit, and which may not even have been a crime at all.
The trial judge didn’t allow the jury to hear this testimony. Many appeals judges who studied the case and heard all the arguments came to the conclusion that the trial judge made a mistake — under the U.S. Constitution, defendants in criminal trials must be allowed to put on a complete defense, including expert testimony about why they may have confessed to a crime they didn’t commit. Many experienced appeals judges — including conservative judges who are normally skeptical of death-row defendants’ arguments — decided that her constitutional rights were violated, but they fell just short of the majority needed to give her a new trial.
As readers of this blog know, I sometimes criticize (g) the American criminal justice system, but also defend it against unfounded claims of unfairness. But after careful study, I am convinced the system has erred in this case. And I’m not alone.
I believe Lucio deserves a new trial in which she is allowed to present a full defense. Yet she’s only 7 days away from execution, which would extinguish this possibility forever. I hope that you will call Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and urge that he stop this execution so that the case can be presented fairly to a jury trial for the first time.
If you’re so inclined, you can call Governor Abbott, and urge him to stop this execution so that the case can be tried fairly, before a jury which has heard all the facts and the expert testimony which supports her case. If you’d like to help, this website from the Innocence Project explains how.
I hope to post more about this case soon, but this can serve as a brief introduction. The main thing is to prevent her execution a week from now.