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Texas lawmakers visit woman on death row with hugs and prayers

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HOUSTON (AP) — The seven Texas lawmakers who traveled hundreds of miles to tell death row inmate Melissa Lucio about their efforts to prevent her execution were also able to connect with her through hugs and prayer.

State Rep. Joe Moody said that although they were initially told Wednesday’s visit should be non-contact under death row rules, lawmakers were eventually allowed to be in the same room than Lucio and were even able to hug her. .

The 40-minute visit began with Representative Toni Rose leading the group in prayer. Moody said he asked Lucio to lead the final prayer that ended the meeting. In a clean room at the Mountain View unit in Gatesville, lawmakers and Lucio sat in chairs formed in a circle, closed their eyes and bowed their heads. Lucio’s prayer spoke of the peace she achieved between believing she did not beat her 2-year-old daughter to death but also accepting her likely execution, Moody said.

“And so, our prayer surrounded that. Our prayer lifted those who cared for her in prison. Our prayer uplifted those who are going to make decisions about his life and it felt very fitting,” said Moody, a Democrat.

Lawmakers say they are troubled by Lucio’s case and believe his April 27 execution should be stopped because there are legitimate questions about his guilt. They also say his case could be a catalyst for revising death row policies, including rules on contact visits, and possibly even a discussion on whether to abolish the death penalty in Texas. .

Lucio was convicted of capital murder in the 2007 death of her daughter Mariah in the South Texas town of Harlingen.

The Cameron County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Lucio, declined to comment before the execution. But prosecutors said Mariah was the victim of child abuse because her body was covered in bruises. A medical examiner testified that Mariah died from a blow to the head. Authorities say Lucio had a history of drug addiction and at times lost custody of some of his 14 children.

But lawyers for Lucio say jurors never heard any forensic evidence that would have explained that Mariah’s various injuries were in fact caused by a fall down a steep flight of stairs. They also say Lucio was not allowed to present evidence challenging the validity of her confession, which they say was given under duress after hours of relentless questioning. Several jurors at his trial also expressed doubts about his conviction.

Tivon Schardl, one of Lucio’s lawyers, said he was “deeply moved” by the lawmakers’ visit.

State Representative Jeff Leach said during their visit Wednesday, lawmakers held Lucio’s hand, prayed with her and listened as she read aloud from a letter she had written.

In his letter, Lucio thanked Leach and the other lawmakers for their efforts and reaffirmed his innocence.

“And if I thought for a second that my death could or would bring Mariah back, I wouldn’t think twice. What my death would do is leave my remaining children motherless and that cannot be the goal of justice,” Lucio wrote.

Leach, a Republican, said he was a supporter of the death penalty in the most heinous cases. But he said there were “deep, substantial and substantial” problems with the way the death penalty is applied in the state and that Lucio’s case is the “most shocking, most problem”.

“To say that I fight against the very existence of the death penalty in Texas would be a dramatic understatement,” Leach said.

Leach and Moody are part of a bipartisan group of more than 80 Texas House members who sent a letter to the state Board of Pardons and Parole and Governor Greg Abbott asking them to grant a reprieve. execution or commute his sentence.

Moody said he hopes the emphasis on mercy that accompanies the upcoming Easter celebration will be considered by the parole board and Abbott when they make their decision.

“And I hope that weighs heavily on the situation we see today because we may not deserve this pity, but we get it, we get it, and I think Melissa should get it in this case,” Moody said.

Lucio, 53, would be the first Latina executed by Texas and the first woman since 2014. Only 17 women have been executed in the United States since the Supreme Court lifted its death penalty ban in 1976, the last in January 2021.


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