Melissa Lucio is a 53-year-old Mexican American woman, originally from Texas and a mother of 14 children. She has spent the past 15 years in prison, waiting to be executed. She is accused of beating her 2-year-old daughter Maria to death, something she has always denied. She claims that the little girl fell down some stairs.
Her execution was scheduled for Wednesday, April 27, but an appeals court stayed the sentence because there is new evidence that she may not be guilty.
If her execution were to be carried out, Lucio would be the first Hispanic woman to be executed in Texas in the modern era, and the first woman to be put to death in a decade. The first woman was sentenced to death in this state in 1863. That woman was Josefa “Chipita” Rodríguez, who was hanged.
Lucio’s history is one of a woman who suffered abuse and poverty from the time she was a child, addictions and violence as an adult. Her family says that she was not a perfect mother, but neither did she mistreat her children, the first of whom she gave birth to at the age of 16. When she was accused in the death of the child in 2007, she was pregnant with twins, who were born in prison and given up for adoption.
If it had not been for the Innocence Project, which championed her cause and took her case, today would have been her last day alive. Capital punishment is an inhumane practice shared with only one other democracy, Japan. It is discriminatory and disproportionately imposed on minorities and the poor.
On that issue, the U.S. is in the company of countries such as China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen and North Korea. Here, the most common method of execution is injection with a cocktail of drugs that sedate the prisoner and paralyze the heart. However, some scientists claim that death by this method is painful and slow. There are some who are calling for the use of the guillotine or the firing squad because, they say, it should be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and an example for future murderers.
The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. At present, there are 2,436 people on death row. In the U.S., 64% of the population, or about six out of every 10 people, are in favor of the death penalty. It is in effect in 27 of the 50 U.S. states and prohibited in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
It is hard to understand how, in the 21st century, the most advanced country in the world has a system of justice that orders one person to kill another in the name of the law. All that’s missing is punishment that cuts off the hands of thieves or runs down drunk drivers.