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Life

Texas prosecutor, facing pressure from Catholic bishops and Kim Kardashian, may pause Melissa Lucio execution

Texas is scheduled to execute Melissa Lucio on April 27 over the 2007 death of her 2-year-old daughter, though serious doubts about her guilt have prompted calls for clemency from a bipartisan majority of Texas state House lawmakers, five of the 12 jurors who convicted her, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, Kim Kardashian, and others. Her case was featured in a 2020 documentary.

At a hearing Tuesday, the district attorney who requested her execution suggested he might step in and stop the execution, The Texas Tribune reports.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz told a bipartisan group of state lawmakers that he stands by the process that led to Lucio's convictions and rejected appeals, but after about an hour of pushback, he said that if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or Gov. Greg Abbott (R) doesn't stay Lucio's execution "by a certain day," then he "will do what I have to do to stop it." Lucio's lawyers were skeptical, but state Rep. Jeff Leach (R), chair of the Criminal Justice Reform Committee, said "we got it on tape."

"My understanding of his remarks to the committee were that if we don't get a stay or clemency issued ... then he will step in and withdraw his request for an execution date," Leach said after the hearing. "That was unequivocal to the committee."

After Lucio's daughter, Mariah Alvarez, died, the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide by blunt force head trauma. Lucio told police her daughter had fallen down the stairs a few days earlier and had become increasingly lethargic, but after hours of aggressive interrogation, she agreed that she had spanked and abused her daughter. Prosecutors used that "confession" of abuse to convince a jury Lucio had murdered her daughter. 

Along with questions about how the toddler actually died, the judge barred expert testimony that could have explained why Lucio admitted to things she later recanted, and her own lawyer did not introduce potentially exculpatory testimony.

"State and federal courts have dismissed Lucio's petitions at almost every step of the appeals process, which is meant to minimize the chance of a wrongful execution," the Tribune reports. "For the prisoner's lawyers, as well as a majority of judges on a conservative federal court, some of those rejections shine a light on broader problems with the death penalty and how hard it is for courts to overturn even weak convictions."