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Catholic bishops of Texas are calling for the state to intervene in a scheduled execution, to spare the life of Melissa Lucio, mother of 14 and grandmother. Lucio has been on death row since 2008, when she was convicted of the murder of her daughter Mariah, who was two years old. The bishops question the validity of her statements made during interrogation by police officers, which lead to a questionable confession.
According to the Texas Observer, paramedics were called to Lucio’s residence in 2007, when they discovered the child unresponsive after having fallen down stairs. Mariah was pronounced dead at the hospital, where it was later discovered that she had sustained injuries, including bruises, a broken arm, and serious head trauma. Texas Rangers launched a homicide probe that same night.
With no eyewitnesses or hard evidence, Lucio’s guilt was determined based on her interrogation, which took place the night her daughter died. Lucio’s appeal, which is soon to go before the U.S. Supreme Court, claims that the Texas Rangers coerced her to make statements that led a jury to determine that she had beaten her daughter.
Vatican News reports that the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops has written to the state, asking for Lucio’s sentence to be commuted and reexamined. They called her interrogation by law enforcement “troubling” and her comments a “forced confession.” The prelates pointed to the role that Lucio’s own history as a victim of physical and sexual abuse played in her comments, as well as a host of questions regarding the manner of Mariah’s death.
The bishops also noted that Lucio has undertaken a spiritual journey in prison, “accompanying others to a deeper faith in Christ.” They wrote:
“One tragedy is not somehow made better by killing someone else. Justice is not suddenly restored because another person dies. Executing Melissa will not bring peace to her surviving children, it will only bring more pain and suffering.” They add that this case again shows why the death penalty process in Texas “cannot be trusted to provide justice to all,” since it is a deeply flawed process “rife with human error and inconsistency.”
The Catholic Mobilizing Network has launched an online petition to halt the execution of Melissa Lucio. The site reiterates Catholic teaching on the death penalty:
Executions are fundamentally incompatible with a consistent ethic of life. The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is unacceptable in all cases because it is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and urges people of goodwill to “work with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
Ending the death penalty
Lucio’s case comes as more lawmakers than ever have begun to oppose the death penalty. In February 2022, a group of 56 elected prosecutors released a statement calling the capital punishment in the United States “broken.”According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the prosecutors wrote:
“… we have all now arrived at the same inexorable conclusion: our country’s system of capital punishment is broken. It is time to work together toward systemic changes that will bring about the elimination of the death penalty nationwide.”
Vox reports that ending the death penalty is becoming more of a bipartisan issue in the 21st century. On the Democrats’ side, President Biden has enacted a moratorium on all Federal executions. Meanwhile Republican legislators are leading or cosponsoring efforts to end the death penalty in Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, and Pennsylvania. In 2021, Virginia abolished the practice.
A recent poll from Pew Research Center found the majority of Americans (60%) continue to be in favor of the death penalty. Only 15% said they strongly opposed executions, although 78% admitted that there is some risk of innocent people being put to death.