WASHINGTON | Support from figures like Kim Kardashian and a movement that extends beyond US borders: calls for clemency grow for Melissa Lucio, who was sentenced to death for the murder of her daughter after a controversial trial, and which is to be executed in Texas on April 27.
For 15 years, this Mexican-American has been claiming her innocence.
In 2007, her 2-year-old daughter Mariah was found dead in her home, covered in bruises, days after falling down some stairs. The life of Melissa Lucio, 12 children and pregnant with twins, is marked by both physical and sexual assault, drug addiction and precarious conditions. She is immediately suspected of having hit her.
She is questioned at length, barely a few hours after the death of her daughter.
After saying “she hadn’t done it, almost a hundred times”, at 3 a.m. she makes a “completely extorted” confession, according to Sabrina Van Tassel, director of the hit documentary The State of Texas vs. Melissa (2020 in the United States, 2021 in France) and support from the American.
“I guess I did,” Melissa Lucio, questioned about the presence of the bruises, told investigators.
This confession is “the only thing they had against her”, assures Sabrina Van Tassel, convinced that “there is nothing that connects Melissa Lucio to the death of this child; there is no DNA or witness”.
At trial, however, an emergency doctor said it was the “worst” case of child abuse he had ever seen in his career.
But the handicaps of the girl, likely to explain her fall, had not been taken into account by the experts, according to her defense, which ensures that the bruises could have been caused by a blood circulation disorder. None of Melissa’s children had accused her of being violent.
As for the prosecutor, he will later be sentenced to prison for corruption and extortion.
“Miscarriage of justice”
For years, the case of Melissa, 53 years old today, did not interest many people. The documentary changes things, and in recent weeks a movement has formed around it.
Reality star Kim Kardashian tweeted to her tens of millions of followers on Wednesday that there were “so many unresolved questions surrounding this case.”
His situation has moved as far as Latin America, where many media tell his story. She is the first Hispanic woman to be sentenced to death in Texas, the state that orders the most executions in the 21st century.and century.
In France, Christiane Taubira, former Keeper of the Seals and ex-candidate for the 2022 presidential election, is committed to Melissa Lucio, probably “victim of a miscarriage of justice”.
One of the jurors in her trial also confided her “deep regrets” for having sentenced her to death, in an editorial published in early March.
Melissa Lucio is even supported by Republicans, traditionally more inclined to defend capital punishment. About 80 Texas lawmakers from both parties have called on authorities to call off his execution. Several went to visit him in prison.
“As a conservative Republican myself, a longtime supporter of the death penalty for the most heinous crimes, I have never seen a more disturbing case than that of Melissa Lucio,” said one. , Jeff Leach.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott, a staunch defender of the death penalty, can still delay the execution, or grant clemency if the state pardons and parole board recommends it.
This influx of support is “a shock” for the detainee, her son John Lucio told AFP. When he showed her messages like Kim Kardashian’s, “she couldn’t believe it.”
The last 15 years have been “very difficult”, recalls the 32-year-old man, a teenager at the time of the events, when he had to “face the death of [sa] sister” while seeing her mother “being accused of it”.
“But this year was the hardest because we had the execution date in January,” explains John Lucio, who claims to have always believed in his innocence.
He is convinced that she would never have been condemned “if she had had the money”.
The case brings to light the issue of false confessions. Their number is difficult to estimate, but according to data from the Innocence Project, which fights against miscarriages of justice, out of four people wrongfully convicted and exonerated thanks to DNA evidence, one had confessed to the facts.
Taking only homicide cases, the proportion rises to 60%, according to Saul Kassin, professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
And someone who, like Melissa Lucio, has experienced trauma and violence, is “less resilient, more submissive, less tolerant of the stress of interrogation”, and therefore more likely to be accused of a crime he did not commit, he said. .