Melissa Lucio: What happens next?

So if you’ve been following the news and the headlines regarding the Melissa Lucio case here in Texas, you likely already know that the State of Texas was scheduled to carry out her execution this week, but at the last minute, a stay was granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the highest level of court here in Texas for criminal cases in which they sent the case back down and halted the execution. So what does that mean? What are the next steps and why did this happen? We’ll take a look at that very briefly here in this week’s video, so stick around.

Happy Friday everybody. I hope you’re having a great week and gearing up for another awesome weekend. This week, we are looking at the Melissa Lucio case. Now for those of you who are unfamiliar, Melissa Lucio is a Hispanic woman, she was actually the first Hispanic woman ever to be sentenced to the death penalty here in Texas. She was accused and ultimately convicted of severely abusing and eventually causing the death of her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Now this case is well over a decade old, this happened down in South Texas, and it has been the subject of a whole lot of scrutiny ever since it was originally decided. If you’re interested in finding out more about the details of this case, there is a wonderful documentary on Hulu called The State of Texas v. Melissa Lucio that I highly suggest you checking out. There are tons and tons of articles and studies and things online that you can find out about Melissa Lucio and her case. I am by no means an expert in this case. I only recently started following it when it really picked up steam in the media, so my understanding is really surface level and relatively minor compared to some who have spent years defending her and looking into her case.

But for today’s video, I wanted to talk about … There was a stay granted in her execution, so what does that mean? Well that means that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has examined the case and has examined the arguments that are being made by her appellate lawyers and have determined that it is worth another look at the lower level, the court in Cameron County where she was initially charged and convicted. Now the general arguments that are being made that they want Cameron County to look at is whether or not there was evidence that was hid from the defense during her trial because that would be a reason for significant error, there is questions on her actual innocence, if there was some junk science used that was used to bolster the evidence against her at trial, and they want to take another look at her “confession” and I’ll put confession in air quotes because the confession was really the primary focus of her trial.

This confession that they were able to get out of her that she was responsible for her daughter’s death. Now this confession has come under heavy scrutiny because of the techniques and the tactics that the interrogators used. They were very common at the time, they’re still relatively common today, and for those of you who haven’t watched the documentary, I highly suggest you at least check that part out because it really, really, really shows the dangers of going in and submitting yourself to questioning at the hands of police without a lawyer there with you. She was questioned for seven or eight hours, she was not given any food, she was not given any water, she was held in this one room. The investigators used a tag team approach where multiple investigators would come in and out of the room, they were very aggressive with their questioning, and they really wore her down to a point where experts now believe that the confession that she ultimately gave was very coerced and highly likely to be false and she has since recanted most of the things she said in that interview.

So it’s worth a look and it’s a big reason why me and others like me in the defense world are always highly skeptical of these confessions as they occur. We want to see the facts surrounding when did these confessions happen, how were they obtained. Because the more we learn about psychology and the way the human mind works and the way that the human mind copes with stressful situations, the more we understand that false confessions are a very real thing that happen, and they’re a very real thing that can throw a case completely into turmoil. And so investigators are now becoming more aware of that, so they’re becoming more cautious in how they do these interrogations. However, they are still a very, very big danger.

The other thing that was important on this is the kind of weight that was given to some of these expert witnesses at trial, the expert witness was the medical examiner who said that according to her autopsy of the child, it was very clear to her that this child had been significantly beaten. Well, other experts have now come out and in looking at her findings and looking at her report, have come up with the opinion or have the opinion that that was actually in error, that those bruises that she discovered were actually not the result of a beating but rather the result of a significant brain injury that the child would have suffered when she fell down the stairs which is what most witnesses say occurred.

So it’s a very interesting case, it is an interesting case to look at for several reasons in that it really throws into stark question the way we have always felt about confessions, if somebody confessed to a crime, they must have done it. This is a great case to study why that may not be the case. It’s also a very interesting case to look at the level of credibility we give these expert witnesses and how important it is for a defense lawyer to really, really analyze the methodology that those experts use to determine is that accurate, is that reasonable, is that reliable, is that something that the scientific community at large would put significant weight on? Would they agree with those conclusions? It’s why that process is so important.

So from now, what will happen is the case will get sent back down to the lower level courts for them to examine those issues and determine if there were significant errors that led to a wrongful conviction of Melissa Lucio. And so it will be interesting to see what the lower court does. This case is by no means over for Melissa or for the State of Texas. It is by no means the end of the road for anybody, so there are a lot of processes and procedures that have to happen from here, but she is garnishing a whole bunch of support including I think five of the jurors that convicted her originally have come out in support of her and said had I known what I know now, I would not have convicted her of this crime. So it’s an interesting case study in how the narrative of a trial can really, really be focused by the efforts of the prosecution, by the efforts or non-efforts of the defense lawyer, and a jury is given a very sanitized version or a very limited scope of what facts may or may not exist and how that could ultimately result in, depending on how you feel, a wrongful conviction in this case.

So it’s an interesting case study, I really recommend you look it up and I know I’ll be following it as it works its way through the lower courts and back on its way up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to see what happens. It is a big win for those in Texas and nationwide who are opponents of the death penalty, so it will be interesting to see what the courts and the Texas governor, Governor Abbott, does with this case. So an interesting one, if it’s a case that you want to discuss or have questions about and you want to chat with me about it and I’m always happy to do that, there are a variety of ways that you can. I’m going to be picking up my Twitch stream again, so on Thursday nights, I will be streaming and you can jump in and ask questions about it. We can discuss it. I’m happy to talk about any questions you have or answer any questions I can. Again, I’m not an expert in the area at all, but I know what I know and I’m happy to give you my opinion on it.

So hope this was an interesting video. As always, please like, subscribe, that helps me out a lot, it lets me know that these videos are worth me making and reach out via email if you have any questions about this or anything else and I’m always here to help. Thanks have a great weekend. You all stay safe out there.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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