DALLAS — John Lucio knows he and his family are fighting an uphill battle, as the months turns to days before his mother's execution. His mother, Melissa Lucio has been on death row since 2008.
Melissa Lucio, 52, is being held at a state prison in Gatesville, which is west of Waco.
"My main fight right now is to stop April 27 from arriving," John Lucio said. "I go to sleep thinking about it. I wake up thinking about it."
Lucio is Melissa's oldest son and loudest supporter. He has held rallies statewide, getting people's attention about his mother's capital murder case in hopes of getting her exonerated.
Melissa was convicted in the death of her 2-year-old daughter Mariah. The incident occurred in 2007 in the Rio Grande Valley. She told detectives that Mariah fell down a steep flight of stairs outside the home.
WFAA obtained access to the Court of Appeals filing in the case and it reveals damning and crucial testimony that likely tipped the scales for the jury at the time. A forensic pathologist then labeled Mariah's injuries the "absolute worst case of child abuse he’d seen," according to court records. The state argued successfully that the toddler was victim to constant physical abuse.
"In terms of a miscarriage of justice, this is probably the worst case I've seen," said Tivon Schardl, who is with the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Public Defenders Office. He's working with the Innocence Project to help free Melissa or at least delay the execution.
"The scales have always been tilted against Melissa Lucio. We're trying to right those scales now," said Schardl.
"The picture they had of my mom was that she was a monster, not the mother," said Lucio.
With the help of attorneys, the Lucio family filed an application for clemency. The ultimate hope is to appeal to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Abbott.
Schardl told WFAA that it is evident Melissa was forced into a confession after many grueling hours of testimony by investigators. The attorney also said they have proof four original jurors would reconsider a conviction after hearing evidence not presented at trial.
"They've got four jurors saying, I might have thought about this differently if I had known that. We're urging them to look at this case differently," said Abraham Bonowitz, of Death Penalty Action.
Bonowitz told WFAA that the easiest way for relief is for the Cameron County District Attorney to withdraw the execution warrant. Another avenue is through the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which must make a recommendation to Gov. Abbott.
The rallies and press conferences even got the attention of those at the Texas state capital.
"The life of a fellow Texan, who could be innocent, is hanging in the balance," said Plano Republican Jeff Leach.
Leach co-chairs the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus.
Lucio told WFAA that close to 90 lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, have appealed to the governor.
Lucio is only concerned for his mother but he also understands the cultural significance if clemency is not granted before April 27.
Melissa would be the first Latina in the State of Texas to die by state execution.
"[They] singled out Melissa so [the Cameron County District Attorney] could have the score of putting the first Latina on death row," said Schardl.
April 27 is fast approaching. Lucio said the next two weeks are going to be very difficult. He told WFAA that his visits with his mom in prison are happy and uplifting.
Lucio and five other family members are scheduled to be there on April 27 for her execution.
"I don't wanna see my mom die. But if I have to see it... I would like to see her last breath," said Lucio.
Melissa's husband Robert Alvarez was sentenced to four years for causing injury to a child by omission.
Gov. Abbott can grant a 30-day delay to the execution, which gives Melissa's attorneys some time to build a case.