The case for granting Melissa Lucio Clemency, which had already been gaining traction with dozens of US lawmakers, jurors from her own trial and even reality star Kim Kardashian, is now attracting international pressure as Belgium and the EU have called on Texas Governor Gregg Abbott to reverse his state’s death sentence of the woman.
Lucio, a mother of 14 and victim of domestic violence, is facing execution later this month for a conviction she received more than a decade ago for allegedly killing her 2-year-old daughter.
Her lawyers and advocates argue that the mother was forced into a “false” confession, in which she admitted to killing Mariah only after hours of intense police questioning.
Instead, her lawyers argue, the 2-year-old daughter likely fell down the staircase outside Lucio’s home in Harlingen, South Texas, and not, as the prosecution argued, from being beaten.
The Belgium ambassador to the US shared his country’s written request to the Texas governor on Friday, posting pictures of the full letter to his official Twitter account alongside the hashtags #AbolitionNow, #AbolishDeathPenalty and #DeathPenalty.
“In support of the European Union’s letter, I write to respectfully request that you grant clemency to Ms. Melissa Lucio,” Belgium Ambassador Jean-Arthur Régibeau’s letter began.
“From both an ethical and practical standpoint, the European Union has unequivocally concluded that the death penalty is neither an appropriate nor an effective means of preventing egregious crimes or of punishing their perpetrators… it is incompatible with human dignity.”
Belgium abolished the death penalty in 1996 and had the policy enshrined in the constitution in 2005, while the first legally binding piece of legislation to abolish the death penalty by the Council of Europe, an international organization founded in the wake of the Second World War to uphold human rights in the continent, was adapted in 1982.
In Lucio’s case, as the Belgian ambassador points out in his letter, he has not only drawn criticism for the manner in which her confession was extracted, but, more importantly, for the details of her case that were omitted from the trial.
The Innocence Project, a group of US lawyers who work to free wrongfully convicted persons and who represent Lucio, explained how the jury never heard the all important details surrounding Lucio’s life, including her lifelong experiences of domestic violence and child abuse, all of which shaped her immediate reactions following her daughter’s death.
“Belgium, like the European Union is also concerned that Ms. Lucio’s right to a fair trial was undermined, an opinion shared by the panel of judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,” Mr Régibeau wrote in his letter.
Prosecutors in the case argued that Mariah was the victim of child abuse and there is no evidence that she would acquit Lucio of her daughter’s death.
In response, Lucio’s lawyers argue that the jury never heard forensic evidence that would have explained the 2-year-old’s injuries, noting that seeing such evidence would support their argument that they were caused by a fall only days before her death.
“There are questions surrounding the extraction of Ms. Lucio’s confession,” the Belgian ambassador writes, aligning with Ms Lucio’s lawyers, particularly, he adds, “given her background as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence.”
Lucio, who has maintained her innocence for the past 14 years that she’s sat on death row and who denied ever harming her child under police interrogation more than 80 times, is set to face execution on 27 April.
Her eldest son, John Lucio, told WFAA in an interview that his “main fight right now is to stop April 27 from arriving” and that he goes “to sleep thinking about it. I wake up thinking about it.”
If she doesn’t receive clemency, the now 53-year-old mother will be the first Latina put to death by the state of Texas.
Currently, the only authorities that are able to stop that hypothetical statistic from becoming a reality is the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott.
To push the campaign into overdrive, as several Texas lawmakers have done in recent days, the Belgian ambassador hopes his and his European delegates’ pressure will help deliver for Ms Lucio’s family.
“We would like to take this opportunity to express our deepest sympathies for Ms. Lucio’s children, who have stood by their mother despite the pain they have suffered in this awful tragedy,” the ambassador writes.
“Mr Governor, in light of the above considerations, we respectfully urge you to exercise your power to grant clemency to Ms. Lucio, or at the very least, to reprieve.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.