On April 25, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of execution for Melissa Lucio, an innocent woman, just two days before her scheduled date of execution.
Lucio, a survivor of abuse, was coerced into a confession and railroaded by a corrupt Texas prosecutor for the death of her 2-year-old daughter Mariah. Upon hearing the decision, she was overcome with emotion and disbelief, exclaiming, “Are you serious?… That is wonderful!” between sobs (recording of phone call released by State Rep. Jeff Leach).
During the initial investigation into her daughter’s death, a string of interrogators berated her for hours, showing her graphic photos of her daughter’s dead body and insisting she admit to abuse and murder. After repeating more than one hundred times that she did not kill her daughter, Melissa uttered the words, “I guess I did it. I’m responsible.” This act of desperation was considered by Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos to be a “confession.” The prosecution used this “confession,” along with other misleading and flawed evidence, to put Lucio behind bars in order to bolster his reelection effort. DA Villalobos is now serving a federal prison sentence for corruption charges.
Lucio and her family have long maintained that she is innocent in the face of this sexist, racist and classist witch hunt. They have been organizing the fight back, which has reached a crescendo in the months leading up to the scheduled date for her execution.
This struggle includes legal support from The Innocence Project, a supportive campaign from Death Penalty Action, screenings of the documentary film “The State of Texas vs Melissa Lucio” by activists, solidarity actions of thousands of organizations, letter-writing campaigns to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and phone calls to Texas officials.
This organized fight managed to move majorities of the Texas Senate and House of Representatives to officially request Governor Abbott and the TBPP to call off the execution. Even though at least five of the original jurors in Melissa’s case have recanted their decision and pleaded for a reversal, the state of Texas had refused to halt the execution. Like the prosecutors of Melissa Lucio, Abbott and many Texas politicians have built their careers on racism, sexism, and violent attacks on the working class billed as “law and order” toughness.
The case of Melissa Lucio reflects the larger racist, sexist bent of the justice system, which imprisons countless innocent people. Year after year, it has taken uprisings of millions to force any jail time for killer cops, organized nationwide movements to force the U.S. Army to care about the disappearance of Vanessa Guillen, and repeated street protests to save the life of other innocent prisoners such as Rodney Reed. All of these systems are built to keep innocent people behind bars while exonerating war criminals, disaster profiteers, and white supremacist vigilantes.
The threat to Lucio’s life is not over. She remains in prison pending a trial in the Cameron County Court, where she was originally convicted, to re-examine the facts in her case under dispute. She has already lost over 13 years of freedom, but her family remains determined to fight.
Courts are not neutral bodies of wisdom dispensing truths from higher powers. They are political institutions. While they serve the interests of the ruling class, they will respond to mass struggles if the resistance is fierce enough. We must remain vigilant and in the streets until Melissa is free, and returned to live freely with her grandchildren. We must also expand this fight to all innocent prisoners who sit on death row as victims of this brutal system. We must continue to push against mass incarceration and police brutality. Finally, we must move as millions against the capitalist and imperialist system, demanding a new socialist society where justice, dignity, and human rights prevail.