GOP lawmaker rallies death penalty proponents in his own party over Melissa Lucio case

A Republican lawmaker in Texas is rallying death penalty proponents within his own party, saying that even those who believe capital punishment is a “God-ordained institution” must see there are “major problems” with the impending execution of Melissa Lucio.

State Rep. Jeff Leach told Red Letter Christians in a live video interview on Monday morning that he was speaking “directly to any fellow Republicans, law and order Republicans, conservatives” who have always been in favor of the death penalty, saying they “ought to unbury our heads from the sand” and “ask the tough questions” about the system.

“Especially as pro-life conservatives we value life from the womb to the tomb,” he said.

“And I can tell you right now that even if you might be arguing out there that capital punishment is a God-ordained institution, I’m here to tell you – I’ve seen it with my own eyes – if in fact it is a God-ordained institution, man has royally messed it up. We have messed it up.”

He added: “We’ve got major problems that need fixing.”

The GOP lawmaker said that he is not telling people what to think about the death penalty but that there is a need to make sure “we don’t execute a possibly innocent Texan”.

“I’m not here to tell you what to think,” he told death penalty proponents.

“Just be willing to ask the tough questions. They’ll find it does not have the deterrent effect it once did… They’ll find the disproportionate impact it has on racial minorities – on Black and brown people.

“Rich white guys do not get the death penalty. They don’t.”

For people of color living in poverty – like Latina mother of 14 and domestic violence victim Lucio – “the deck is stacked against you”, he said.

“I promise you if every Texan visited death row, if you were to understand the facts, if you were to look at cases like Melissa’s and if your policy makers were to do the same… We would have better fixes to the system.”

Mr Leach was joined by Democratic Rep. Joe Moody as the two lawmakers are leading bipartisan calls to halt the execution of 53-year-old Lucio.

Lucio is set to be put to death in just two weeks’ time for the 2007 murder of her two-year-old daughter Mariah – a murder she has long insisted she did not commit.

Mr Leach said that a crime “may not even have occurred” in the death of little Mariah as he called Lucio’s case “the most troubling, problematic, concerning case I have ever seen”.

“Without question the Melissa Lucio case is the most troubling, problematic, concerning case I have ever seen,” he said.

“From start to the finish from Mariah’s tragic death to today the system has failed Melissa and I would argue it has even failed Mariah.”

State Rep. Jeff Leach calls Melissa Lucio’s case ‘the most troubling, problematic, concerning case I have ever seen’

(Red Letter Christians)

With the 27 April execution date looming, a growing body of people – including Kim Kardashian, jurors who convicted Lucio at her trial, criminal justice activists and Lucio’s other children – are now fighting to save the 53-year-old’s life.

A total of 83 bipartisan Texas state representatives including Mr Leach and Mr Moody sent the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott a letter last month asking them to grant an execution reprieve or commute her sentence.

Among the group of Republicans and Democrats rallying behind Lucio are both proponents and opponents of the death penalty.

Last week, seven of them visited her on death row at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville and prayed with her.

The lawmakers’ visit marked the first time Lucio was allowed to touch another human being since she was sent to death row back in 200, said Mr Leach.

During Monday’s interview, he said that the first time her children will be able to touch their mother will be her body after she is executed.

Mr Moody described his meeting with Lucio as “one of the most powerful things I think I’ve ever experienced in my legislature”, something that was both “powerful and overwhelming”.

He said that there are four ways to ensure Lucio lives past 27 April including for Governor Greg Abbott or the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant her clemency or for the court of criminal appeals to take action.

An even simpler way would be for Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz to withdraw the request for her execution, he said.

“That doesn’t set her free, it allows her lawyers to do their work,” said Mr Moody, adding that “we just want Melissa to have her fair day in court”.

The Democrat urged the public to contact the DA’s office to pressure him to act while Mr Leach accused him of having his “head in the sands”.

Mr Saenz has been invited by the lawmakers to attend a Texas House committee hearing on Lucio’s case on Tuesday.

The bipartisan group “expect” him to show, with Mr Leach vowing to “use every tool in the toolbox” if he doesn’t.

“He’s not going to get off by just trying to avoid this altogether,” he warned.

Johnny Galvan Jr, a juror who convicted Lucio in 2007, will also testify at the hearing.

Mr Galvin has said he regrets his decision to sentence Lucio to death.

Texas death row inmate Melissa Lucio, dressed in white, leads a group of seven Texas lawmakers in prayer in a room at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas


He wrote in an editorial in thehouston chronicle last week that he feels he was misled about the facts of the case and then succumbed to “peer pressure” in changing his sentencing vote from life in prison to the death penalty.

“If I had known all of this information, or even part of it, I would have stood by my vote for life no matter what anyone else on the jury said,” he wrote.

Lucio, a victim of lifelong domestic violence, was sentenced to death in 2008 after being convicted of the February 2007 murder of Mariah.

Prosecutors claimed that Mariah died from injuries caused by Lucio abusing her daughter.

Lucio said that her daughter’s injuries were caused by a fall down the stairs two days earlier while the family was moving home.

Lucio’s attorneys say that the only evidence to convict Lucio for her daughter’s murder was a false “confession” wrought through intense police questioning.

Hours after her child’s tragic death, she was subjected to a five-hour interrogation by armed, male police officers while she was pregnant with twins.

During the interrogation, Lucio asserted her innocence more than 100 times to the officers, according to a clemency application filed by her legal team last month.

But, because of her history as a victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence and the actions of the male officers who “manipulated” her, she was vulnerable to their “coercion”, her attorneys said.

After five hours, Lucio ended up admitting that she sometimes spanked Mariah and caused some bruising on her daughter’s body.

Her five words “I guess I did it” were taken by prosecutors as a confession for her murder.

Social work records show Lucio had no history of abusing her children and her attorneys say no crime was even committed, with Mariah’s death being “a tragedy, not a murder”.

Melissa Lucio holding her son John

(The family of Melissa Lucio)

The clemency application also argues that jurors were denied from hearing two key witnesses for the defense who were to testify that she gave a false confession to male authority figures due to her history of abuse and low IQ.

Medical experts have also said that Mariah’s injuries were likely to have been caused by a fall or an infection.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor who led the case against Lucio – Armando Villalobos – is now serving a 13-year federal prison sentence on charges of bribery and extortion connected to a wide-ranging Texas corruption ring.

The Independent has covered Lucio’s case for several months.

Sandra Babcock, faculty director of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and consultant to Lucio’s legal team, previously toldThe Independent that biases against women and people of color also played a part in the death sentence handed to the Latino mother.

“Melissa’s entire life was shaped by the violence she experienced at the hands of men,” she said.

“But a jury was denied from hearing how her experiences of gender-based violence explained her behavior in a way that is completely consistent with her innocence.”

With Lucio’s execution date looming, her case has gained global attention with Kardashian tweeting about her plight to her 72 million followers and urging the Texas governor to grant clemency.

Five jurors from Lucio’s trial – four on the panel and one alternate – have also filed declarations saying they are concerned about evidence that was held from them at her trial and that they now support relief for the 53-year-old.

And Lucio’s children have filed letters urging the state of Texas to grant their mother clemency with her son John Lucio speaking out to plead that “I don’t want to see my mom die”.

Lucio, who is the first and only Hispanic woman on death row in Texas, has spent the last 14 years on death row fighting to prove her innocence.

In 2019, she was granted a new trial after an appeals court agreed that her rights had been violated at her trial.

But this was swiftly undone when the state of Texas filed a petition and a court sided with it.

Last year, the US Supreme Court then denied a request to hear Lucio’s case, paving the way for Texas to set her execution date.

The Independent and the non-profitResponsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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