HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas appeals court on Monday delayed the execution of a woman amid growing doubts about whether she fatally beat her 2-year-old daughter in a case that has garnered the support of lawmakers, celebrities and even some of the jurors who sentenced her to death.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a request by Melissa Lucio’s lawyers for a stay of execution so a lower court can review her claims that new evidence would exonerate her. It was not immediately known when the lower court would begin reviewing her case.
Lucio had been set for lethal injection on Wednesday for the 2007 death of her daughter Mariah in Harlingen, a city of about 75,000 in Texas’ southern tip.
The execution stay was announced minutes before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had been set to consider her clemency application to either commute her death sentence or grant her a 120-day reprieve.
Lucio’s attorneys say her capital murder conviction was based on an unreliable and coerced confession that was the result of relentless questioning and her long history of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. They say Lucio wasn’t allowed to present evidence questioning the validity of her confession.
Her lawyers also contend that unscientific and false evidence misled jurors into believing Mariah’s injuries only could have been caused by physical abuse and not by medical complications from a severe fall.
Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, whose office prosecuted the case, has said he disagrees with Lucio’s lawyers’ claims that new evidence would exonerate her. Prosecutors say Lucio had a history of drug abuse and at times had lost custody of some of her 14 children.