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Melissa Lucio execution: Interrogation video at the centre of death row inmate appeal

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A mother-of-14 will be executed within 90 days unless a miracle happens. She says this video is all the proof she needs to be set free.

A Texas mother-of-14 will be executed in 70 days for what she says was a tragic accident that saw her two-year-old girl fall down a rickety old staircase at the family’s tiny apartment.

The only way Melissa Lucio avoids death by lethal injection is if a court finds evidence that casts doubt on her murder conviction.

She says the evidence exists and a jury never saw it in 2007 when she was found guilty of murder and became the first Latina woman on death row in Texas.

Ms Lucio’s case rests on two pieces of video footage.

The first video shows one of her sons speaking with detectives in the hours after little Mariah had died. In it, the boy is asked by a female officer: “Did you see (your sister) fall (down the stairs) or did somebody tell you that she fell?”

He responds: “No, I saw (her fall).”

Journalist and documentary maker Sabrina Van Tassell, who directed the film The State of Texas vs Melissa, said the interview with Ms Lucio’s son “was never presented to the court and none of those kids ever said that their mother was beating up on Mariah”.

A second video shows Ms Lucio herself being pushed to breaking point in a gruelling seven-hour interrogation that started just hours after the little girl died and went until 3am.

Footage from the interrogation shows detectives pressing the grieving mother about whether she is a “cold-blooded killer”.

“First of all, I’m very sad that this child died,” a detective tells her.

“Right now it looks like you’re a cold-blooded killer. Now, are you a cold-blooded killer or were you a frustrated mother who just took it out on her?

“It happens. We all make mistakes. We already know what happened.”

Ms Lucio was interrogated without food, water or a lawyer. It ended with her telling detectives “I guess I did it. I’m responsible.”

The 50-year-old now says she was taking responsibility for her daughter’s fall to steer detectives away from blaming another of her children who was babysitting at the time.

“Basically what they were trying to make me admit was that I was the one responsible for her fall,” Ms Lucio tells documentary makers in The State of Texas vs Melissa.

“And I kept telling them that I hadn’t hurt my daughter and they were very vulgar, very rough, very persistent.

“They wanted me to admit to something that I was not capable of doing to my child. The interrogation continued for maybe 6-7 hours.”

The Innocence Project, an organisation that “exonerates the wrongly convicted”, put it this way: “(Ms Lucio) broke down and told investigators what they wanted to hear to make the questioning stop.”

A lawyer for Ms Lucio said this week: “There is just too much doubt. We cannot move forward in this case and risk executing an innocent woman.”

But lawyers for the state of Texas always maintained Mariah’s body appeared to show she was a victim of child abuse.

A medical examiner said it was “the worst case of child abuse I had ever seen.”

“There were bruises from head to toe,” she said. “There were bruises on the face, in the hair, on the chest.”

Detectives asked Ms Lucio to explain the bruises on Mariah’s body. She admitted that she smacked the child on the back sometimes. They made her simulate the spankings during the interrogation.

Her lawyers admitted that she had struck the child but said she was not guilty of murder.

“Now, in the opening remarks that we made in the beginning of the trial after you were all seated here, I told you my client is not up for ‘Mother Of The Year’,” one of Ms Lucio’s lawyers said in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

“I told you that my client is guilty of injury to a child. She is and she has admitted that. The question here before you is whether or not on February 17, 2007, Melissa Lucio intentionally and knowingly killed Mariah Alvarez.

“That’s the issue. That’s the issue. Not whether she beat her. Not whether she broke her arm. Not whether she’s a lousy mother or didn’t provide for her children. That’s not an issue.”

The lawyer said the interrogation video was the “key to everything”.

“This whole case revolves around this video. This video is real important. If you have-if you cannot remember it all, play it again. It’s a long, long video. And I’m sorry for that. But this is the key to everything in this case.

“The video is very important. Study that video because that’s where all of the key is. Melissa Lucio said things. She didn’t have an attorney. Nobody is there to coach her and tell her what to say or how to say it.

“She’s there on her own. She has got … five law enforcement officers throwing questions at her. She’s there on her own. Nobody is helping her.”

Multiple media reports show the state of Texas relied on Ms Lucio’s confession because they had no physical evidence with which to convict her.

If her appeal is unsuccessful, Ms Lucio will be executed on April 27.



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