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Texas This Week: Lawmakers working to stop State from executing mother of 12

State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) joined Ashley Goudeau to talk about the flaws in the case and why he thinks Melissa Lucio should not be killed.

AUSTIN, Texas — In this week's edition of Texas This Week, State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) joins Ashley Goudeau to discuss the case of Melissa Lucio and why lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are fighting to stop her execution.

Three things to know in Texas politics

1. Texas prepares for the end of Title 42

The Biden Administration is preparing to end Title 42 next month. The federal policy allows the U.S. to quickly send migrants who are seeking asylum back to their country of origin to try and stop the spread of communicable diseases. Former President Donald Trump's administration implemented Title 42 in March of 2020, at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in America. State and federal leaders are preparing for an influx of migrants once the policy ends, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who held a news conference Wednesday to discuss his plans. 

RELATED: White House responds to Gov. Abbott's plans to bus migrants to U.S. Capitol

"The Biden administration, as we speak with the current numbers even before the elimination of Title 42, they've been dumping large numbers of migrants in cities up and down the border, leaving the cities to grapple with challenges that don't have the capability of dealing with. They themselves have been putting these migrants on busses to San Antonio. So I said I got a better idea as opposed to bussing these people to San Antonio. Let's continue to ride all the way to Washington, D.C.," Abbott said. 

Gov. Abbott announced he's directed the Texas Department of Emergency Management to use charter buses to take migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C., adding one of the areas migrants will be bused to is the steps of the U.S. Capitol. The rides would be voluntary for migrants who have already been processed by the Department of Homeland Security. The governor is also ordering DPS to enhance vehicle inspections at the border, is deploying boat blockades in the Rio Grande River and is planning other deterrents.

2. Texas rejected 12.38% of mail in ballots in the March primary election

We are learning more about the impact of the state's new election law on voters who choose to cast their ballots by mail. The Secretary of State's office released data this week showing 12.38% of mail in ballots were rejected. That's more than what was originally estimated and six times higher than the last midterm election. The secretary's office asked election officials in all 254 counties to tell them how many ballots were rejected. Of the 198,947 ballots that were sent in, 24,636 ballots were rejected. The rejections happened about the same among Democratic and Republican voters. 

3. U.S. Senate votes to confirm Judge Jackson to Supreme Court

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the next U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Judge Jackson will replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who is stepping down when the current term ends in October. Judge Jackson will become the first Black woman to serve on the high court. Her confirmation gained bi-partisan support, though the two Republican senators from Texas did not vote to confirm her.

State Rep. Joe Moody on the fight to save Melissa Lucio   

In two weeks, the State of Texas is set to execute Melissa Lucio. She was convicted of capital murder for the death of her two-year old daughter in 2007. A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers, Lucio's family and now celebrities are trying to stop it from happening by pointing out numerous flaws in the case. El Paso Rep. and Speaker Pro-Tem of the Texas House Joe Moody joined Ashley Goudeau to talk about their efforts.

Ashley Goudeau: Before we dive into the issues with this case and your efforts to stop the execution, tell us a little bit about Melissa Lucio, what you've learned about her. 

State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso): "Yeah, Melissa Lucio was the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault. She was someone who suffered from substance abuse, and so she had a very difficult life. She had a very difficult upbringing. She was married very young. She had 12 children. So she has faced a lot of difficult things in her life. And they all culminated in the in the death of her two-year-old daughter, Mariah. And that's the case that brings us to this this moment today."

Goudeau: She was convicted of Mariah's death in 2007. Tell us what happened with this little girl. 

State Rep. Moody: "I think the, if you believe the story that the prosecutors told those many years ago, that you know, she was responsible for throwing her daughter down the stairs and then not getting adequate medical care for her. You know, there has been an extensive investigation into her history regarding abuse, and she didn't have any. And so that's the story they would like you to believe. The story that we know and we've heard through experts is that there was an accident that happened, a tragic accident. And Mariah fell down some stairs and she had a traumatic brain injury. She also had a disorder that led to some significant bruising and, then, ultimately passed away from those injuries. And so the science then and the evidence was let in then led jurors to conclude a certain way. If you look at experts in their analysis of this case today, I think it would lead most people to conclude something different. In fact, jurors that served in that case have said as much. If they knew then what they know now, they would not have come to the same conclusion."

Goudeau: Ms. Lucio, though, did confess to a crime, but there were some issues with that confession, right?  

State Rep. Moody: "So this is a multiple hours immediately after learning the death of her child, that they kept her in the interrogation. She was pregnant at the time. And these are interrogation techniques that today, I think, most people would say wouldn't be used. The confession they, that was gathered from law enforcement at the time had to do with whether – it had nothing to do with the death of Mariah but had to do with whether, you know, she had spanked her or she had hit her in the past. It had nothing to do with her falling down the stairs. And so one was equated to the other. You had a medical examiner that jumped to conclusions. In fact, a medical examiner whose own testimony was refuted in a case right around the same time dealing with child abuse. You had a person that was convicted and later exonerated. And that's the same medical examiner that testified in Melissa Lucio's case."

Goudeau: Tell us what other things about her conviction, the trial really raise red flags for you.  

State Rep. Moody: "Well, this is one of those cases that shows you problems from beginning to end. You have an investigation that begins with an answer rather than questions. They zeroed in on Melissa immediately without looking at any other factors. You have science that is either refuted or contradicted. You have interrogation tactics that should not have been employed. You have a defense attorney who was lackluster and did not provide his client, Melissa Lucio, with an adequate defense. And a good way to compare it is her boyfriend at the time, who faced the same charges, was convicted of a lesser included offense and sentenced to four years in prison. He's free today. And so those are the differences that we see in this case. And a very disparate impact for her versus the other individual that's charged. So problems throughout the process. And that's really what I think has caused a lot of concern and has caused a lot of people to get involved in this case."

Goudeau: One of those things that I think is interesting is that her defense wasn't able to bring up her past, some of the things that you shared with us at the beginning of us starting to talk here. And so she did have a physical appearance – being slumped down, not necessarily making eye contact – that we see with victims of abuse that the jury didn't know, and prosecutors used that to say she was guilty, right? 

State Rep. Moody: "Well, absolutely. And one of the other points I didn't even bring up is the DA that had his office bring this case, the prosecutors, I believe, is still sitting in federal prison for corruption charges and who was criticized at the time for not being tough enough on crime. And you know, here you have someone who I think, in my opinion, was railroaded by the system. So you have problems all across the board. And she wasn't, you know, it wasn't permitted to put in some of that evidence. There were some expert testimony that was also excluded. And so those are the types of things that we need to be very concerned about within our criminal justice system. And so when we, you know, when I talked to Melissa the other day, I had the opportunity to meet with her, I thanked her for telling her story because it allows those of us who have worked on these issues to to amplify that, to bring her voice into a larger space. But also to point out problems throughout the process. And so her case obviously has a lot of problems, but I think it allows people a glimpse into the broader issues that we face in confronting our criminal justice system."

Goudeau: You, of course, one of 83 Texas lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, asking the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare her life. Tell us about those efforts. 

Rep. Moody: You know, that is a it is an effort like I've never seen before, and I've worked on these cases for some time now in my time in the Legislature. But 83 members – and look, I'm someone who believes that we should abolish the death penalty. There are people that signed that letter that absolutely believe that people should, the death penalty should continue. And so this isn't about abolishing or not abolishing it. This is about fairness and justice in our system. And so we have a coalition of people, Democrat, Republican, all stripes that have signed onto this, saying, 'Hey, this is not justice.' There are problems that have to be addressed. I'm proud of the group that we've put together. I think it's unfortunate that we have to do that because we continue to have cases like this. But the fact that people are opening their eyes to this and no longer just, you know, just just moving past cases like hers, you know, capital punishment is something that for for many people, you know, we sanitize the execution process, make it look very medical or we dehumanize the people that we're giving it to, right? So it's very easy to just dismiss these challenging things. And so I am grateful for my colleagues that took the time to hit pause on their lives and think about the life of Melissa Lucio. Think about the life of Mariah. Think about justice for her family. It's an important process that we're going through, and I think it's showing that we are turning the corner on fixing some of the problems within our criminal justice system."

The Innocence Project is also working to stop Lucio's execution. You can read more about the case and their efforts here


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