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Protests organized across Texas in attempt to overturn death sentence for Melissa Lucio

Protestors outside the Cameron County Courthouse advocate to overturn Melissa Lucio's death sentence.
Gaige Davila
Texas Public Radio
Protestors outside the Cameron County Courthouse advocate to overturn Melissa Lucio's death sentence.

After years of unsuccessful appeals, Melissa Lucio, a Rio Grande Valley woman convicted of killing her 2-year-old daughter, has learned the date of her execution — April 27. Her family and friends are protesting her punishment and claim she’s innocent.

Melissa Lucio’s family and friends stood outside the Cameron County Courthouse last week and asked officials to watch the documentary, “Melissa vs. The State of Texas.”

The film alleges Lucio’s case was botched and that she is innocent. She is the only Latina in Texas history to be sentenced to death, and one of six women on death row.

The documentary renewed public interest in the case, particularly after Cameron County officials signed an execution warrant for Lucio.

Lucio’s third child, John, hopes to convince county and state officials to free his mother. He scheduled the protest at the Cameron County Courthouse for the same time that officials left their offices for lunch.

“We’re just asking them to see, Luis Saenz to see, the film and see the innocence of my mother Melissa Elizabeth Lucio,” he said.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz ignored John Lucio and the other demonstrators as he walked past them. Saenz requested her execution warrant.

Peter Gilman, Lucio’s defense attorney — now a prosecutor in the Cameron County DA’s office — also walked past the protest, after turning around and waving them away.

John Lucio alleges that Gilman withheld evidence that could have saved his mother’s life.

“Gilman does not want to respond, because he knows what he did. He knows exactly what he did, he left out many (pieces of) evidence. And that’s why we have these signs here, ‘Watch the film,’ because inside the film, there’s a bunch of evidence that was not utilized in my mother’s trial,” he said.

On Feb. 18, Melissa Lucio’s attorneys filed motions to remove Cameron County 138th District Court Judge Gabriela Garcia and Saenz from her case. The attorneys say because two members of Garcia’s and Saenz’s staff previously represented Lucio’s defense they cannot prosecute her.

Gilman is one of those members, as assistant district attorney. His wife, Irma, was a paralegal in Lucio’s defense who now serves on Garcia’s court as a court administrator.

The attorneys allege Saenz and Garcia’s involvement violate Lucio’s due process rights.

Lucio plans to travel across Texas and protest his mother’s execution. Friends of the Lucio family say they will continue to hold rallies.

John is just one of Melissa's 14 children.

"She was drug abuser, yes she was. She was neglectful towards us — still does not add up to child abuse," he said at a separate protest in San Antonio's Milam Park. "She is poor, she has too many children. If she was a white male she wouldn’t be on death row today."

There was no Child Protective Services documentation of child abuse in the Lucio home.

David Martin Davies contributed to this story.

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Gaige Davila is the Border and Immigration Reporter for Texas Public Radio.