Texas Plans to Execute an Abuse Survivor Based on a Coerced Confession
Victoria Law, Truthout; excerpt below:
First it was her mother’s boyfriend. Then it was the man she married at age 16. Then it was her next partner. Starting at age 6, Melissa Lucio endured repeated sexual abuse from the men in her life. By the time Texas Ranger Victor Escalon demanded that she confess to the death of her 2-year-old daughter, 39-year-old Lucio had been well-conditioned to acquiesce to adult men, even if it meant confessing to a crime she didn’t do.
None of that was explained during her trial. Now, the State of Texas plans to execute Lucio on April 27, 2022. She is the first Latina woman sentenced to death by the State of Texas and the first woman set to be executed by the state since 2014. Lucio has always maintained her innocence.
“Melissa had multiple vulnerabilities and susceptibilities for making a false incriminating statement in a coercive interrogation setting,” Vanessa Potkin, director of special litigation at the Innocence Project and one of Lucio’s attorneys, told Truthout. During an evaluation ordered in earlier years by Child Protective Services, a psychologist found that Lucio had an IQ of 70, placing her in the intellectually disabled range. The National Registry of Exonerations found that in exonerations involving false confessions, 70 percent were by people with mental illness or intellectual disability.
“They took advantage of a woman who had a lifelong experience of gender-based violence,” said Sandra Babcock, faculty director at the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and an expert on women and the death penalty. “Prosecutors minimized the impact of gender-based violence and exploit their trauma to obtain criminal convictions and death sentences.”
Approximately 40 percent of women who have been exonerated had been wrongfully convicted of crimes involving child victims, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Nearly 30 percent had been wrongfully convicted of killing children and 63 percent had been convicted of crimes that never happened — such as accidents or events that were fabricated. Lucio’s prosecution also illustrates the ways in which state actors — including law enforcement and courts — twist the effects of ongoing trauma and violence as evidence of a survivor’s guilt.