AUSTIN, Texas — Melissa Lucio, a Texas woman on death row, has been granted a stay of execution on Monday by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
"I thank God for my life," Lucio said Monday in a statement released by her lawyers. "I have always trusted in Him. I am grateful the Court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence. Mariah is in my heart today and always. I am grateful to have more days to be a mother to my children and a grandmother to my grandchildren. I will use my time to help bring them to Christ. I am deeply grateful to everyone who prayed for me and spoke out on my behalf."
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed nine claims in Lucio's habeas application. They accepted four of the claims as reasons to go to trial court for review. The claims include that the state used false testimony, that scientific evidence that could have proven her innocence wasn't available at the time, that she is actually innocent, and that the state suppressed evidence that her daughter's death was actually an accident.
Rep. Jeff Leach called Lucio in prison to inform her that her execution had been stayed. Listen to the moment she heard:
Lucio's family, specifically her sister, was overjoyed that her execution was stayed.
Lucio's lawyers hosted a press conference to answer questions on their next steps Monday afternoon. Listen along here:
"We know that Melissa’s children – Mariah’s brothers and sisters – and Mariah’s grandparents, aunts and uncles are all relieved and grateful that Melissa’s life will not be taken by the State of Texas," said Tivon Schardl, Capital Habeas Unit Chief of the Federal Defender for the Western District of Texas and one of Melissa’s attorneys. "And we believe the court honored Mariah’s memory because Melissa is innocent. Melissa is entitled to a new, fair trial. The people of Texas are entitled to a new, fair trial. 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."
Over the weekend, supporters of Lucio gathered in a last-ditch effort to stop her execution, which was scheduled for Wednesday.
Lucio's supporters were outside the Texas State Capitol on Sunday and outside the Governor's Mansion on Saturday. The Saturday rally was one of more than a dozen held across several states as part of a national day of action to save Lucio.
On Monday, the group Death Penalty Action delivered a petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Greg Abbott. The board has the power to issue a recommendation to the governor's office for Abbott to grant clemency, but the board will no longer be making a recommendation following the court's decision.
"With regard to the death penalty that could arise next week ... I still have not received a report from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. That's a requirement for the governor to receive before any action is taken. And when I receive that, I'll consider it and take whatever action I think is appropriate," Abbott said recently.
Death Penalty Action already delivered a petition on Friday to Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, calling on him to rescind the execution warrant for Lucio and reinvestigate her case. The group says Saenz has the power to stop Lucio's execution by withdrawing that warrant.
Lucio was sentenced to death after she was convicted of killing her 2-year-old daughter in 2007 in Harlingen. Her case has since received national attention after supporters raised questions about the facts of the case and how it was handled at the time.
Lucio's supporters say her daughter's death was an accident after she fell down the stairs. Five of the jurors who convicted Lucio have asked the state parole board and Abbott to stop her execution, saying they were not aware of all the facts at the time and that they would not have sentenced her to death had they known then what they know now.
The Hulu documentary “The State of Texas vs. Melissa” detailed how Lucio might be innocent, and John Oliver has discussed Lucio's case twice on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight," once during an episode focused on wrongful convictions and briefly again in an episode focused on police interrogations. Kim Kardashian has also expressed her support for Lucio, signing a petition urging Abbott to stop Lucio's execution.
A bipartisan group of Texas House lawmakers has also urged state leaders to intervene and stop Lucio's execution, as has a group of more than 20 state senators who sent a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommending that Lucio either get her sentence commuted or that she get a reprieve.
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