I Stuck around St. Petersburg, when I saw it was a time for a change.
Killed the Tsar and his ministers, Anastasia screamed in vain.
–Sympathy for the Devil, The Rolling Stones
The famous Stones song is a meditation on evil. If we have some understanding of the devil’s work, we may better understand the darker impulses at work in our own lives. The title of this post and lyric above reference the brutal execution of the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas, II. Anastasia had no trial before Bolsheviks stole her life. More importantly, she committed no crime.
Melissa Lucio is set to be executed in Texas on April 27, 2022. She had her day in court, but it was anything but fair. As a result, most experts conclude, the state of Texas is gearing up to snuff out the life of an innocent mother. The question now is whether Gov. Abbot will ignore the truth, wash his hands, and seal her fate.
In 2008 Ms. Lucio’s two-year old daughter Mariah had a tragic fall and died from her injuries. The police convinced themselves the child died at the hands of her mother and set about to “prove” it. This is yet another classic case of how confirmation bias leads to disastrous results in our broken system.
Ms. Lucio repeatedly denied harming her child and there was scant evidence to prove abuse. This was a problem the police intended to solve by extracting Ms. Lucio’s confession. They did it as they do in many cases, using a particularly despicable method of interrogation called “the Reid technique.”
Reid is a series of dirty tricks designed to back a suspect into a corner. Police lie about the strength of the evidence. They then offer an “offramp” in the form of a more “palatable” story; one that affirms the general good character of the suspect and offers moral or psychological justifications for the supposed crime.
Using Reid, police cajole their subject into believing that the least damaging way through this nightmare is to go along with the story they are force feeding them. As extra incentive, they routinely implicitly promise that if a suspect acquiesces to their narrative, the prosecutor and judge will show them leniency. In some cases, they are lead to believe there will be no charges at all.
In this case, a vulnerable, traumatized, exhausted, pregnant, grieving mother finally said something incriminating enough to call a “confession”. At 3:00 am, after hours of grilling, Ms. Lucio uttered the words she believed would make it all stop: “I guess I did it. I’m responsible.”
The prosecutor would later take those words, twist them at trial, and use them to bludgeon Ms. Lucio to the brink of death.
Every cop is not a criminal, nor every sinner a saint. But it’s never a good sign when the lead prosecutor ends up convicted of his own (unrelated) crimes. The man that obtained the death verdict against Ms. Lucio is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence for bribery and extortion. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Prosecutor, we don’t have to guess your name – it’s Armando Villalobos.
For those of you who find it hard to accept that a person would ever confess to a crime they did not commit, take a look at the numbers, and think again. According to the Innocence Project, there have been upwards of 375 DNA exonerations in the United States since 1989. In almost thirty percent of those cases, police extracted a confession from an innocent person.
Of course, a trial is meant to be the forum where all these nasty tactics are sorted out, where the Constitution matters, and where the accused has the benefit of highly qualified counsel to deliver on the promise of effective assistance.
In this case, Ms. Lucio’s defense was lackluster, to say the least. Perhaps the best evidence of trial counsel’s deficiencies is that at least four jurors, including the jury foreperson, have recently come forward to advocate for the life of Ms. Lucio. They all say they would never have voted for death had they known then what they know now.
To call this case a travesty of justice is an understatement. She’s been languishing on death row now for thirteen years. If the state of Texas carries out this execution, it will be the only true premeditated murder in the matter of The State of Texas v. Melissa Lucio.
The ugly American machinery of death grinds on. And, to again quote my beloved Stones, it has most certainly stolen “many a man’s soul and faith.” Yet, Ms. Lucia and her supporters somehow still keep the faith. But time is running out, and if she dies, there will be no sympathy for the devil that laid her soul to waste.
To learn more about the case and what you can do to help, please visit this link at the Innocence Project.