Justice for Melissa Means Justice for Us

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Melissa Lucio of Harlingen, Texas, is scheduled to be executed this week for the murder of her 2-year old daughter in 2007.  An astonishingly broad-based and bipartisan coalition of politicians and civic activists perceive weaknesses in the case against her and want her to get a new trial.  Granting her one will strengthen the credibility of the criminal justice system and even the death penalty, while protecting not only her rights but those of us all.

Lucio’s conviction in 2008 of beating her daughter to death the year before was based mainly on her confession and supported by medical testimony as well.  Her current attorneys argue that:

  • Lucio’s original confession was coerced and extracted from her after hours of relentless badgering from her interrogators;
  • The medical evidence was incompetently examined and was actually more consistent with a fall down the stairs;
  • Lucio’s original defense attorney was incompetent; and
  • The prosecutor in the case was politically ambitious, seeking re-election, and trying to counter criticism for not prosecuting previous domestic violence cases with sufficient zeal.

Lucio’s original prosecutor is currently in prison, having been convicted of participation in a bribery and extortion scheme.  But his successors have steadfastly supported the conviction and death sentence he secured, claiming that Lucio, in addition to be a child abuser, had a long history of drug abuse and had also had several of her 14 children taken away from her at various times.  Evidently the prosecutors believe their case against her remains strong.

But five of the twelve members of the jury which convicted Lucio in 2008 now say that given her current attorneys’ arguments, they no longer support their own decision and want a new trial.  So too do supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature.  Even self-identified conservative supporters of law and order and the death penalty want Lucio’s case reopened before her scheduled execution.

And well they should:  They understand that the threat to law and order can come not only from criminals and a government that refuses to prosecute them effectively, but from corrupt police and prosecutors who trick juries into finding the innocent nonetheless guilty and thereby undermine public confidence in the system of criminal justice on which we must nonetheless rely if we’re to avoid chaos, anarchy, predatory criminals, or a predatory government.

Moreover, even the most ardent supporters of the death penalty believe, or should believe, that nothing will undermine support for the death penalty and strengthen demands for its abolition more than the execution of the innocent.  To spare the innocent from death is the best way to maintain the public support necessary to preserve the death penalty for use against the truly evil among the guilty.

Whenever a government acts, whether for good or ill, it creates or strengthens a precedent for repeating its action.  Government action to re-examine the case against Melissa Lucio, preferably with a new trial, will increase the chances that should any of us be convicted on questionable evidence, we, too, may be more likely to have our cases re-examined as well.  But should Melissa Lucio be put to death without a thorough airing of the apparent weaknesses in the case against her, we, too, could someday become victims to a similar indifference or even malevolence.  In other words, not only is Melissa Lucio’s future at stake, but potentially ours as well.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.


  1. If there is “new evidence” for the case, then the execution should be stayed and the new evidence considered. Justice, handed down by a jury of her peers, should not be overturned by popular opinion and the “feelings” of others (regardless of who they are). Doing so trades the rule of law for the desires of popular or public opinion and the rule of law then means nothing.

  2. Amen. Multiply this a hundred-fold, which is the reality, and you cannot but be against the death penalty. I am one of those.

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