On April 12, 2024, Judge Arturo Nelson signed an Agreed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law submitted by the prosecution and defense stating that Melissa Lucio (pictured) was not given access to favorable information in the prosecution’s possession at the time of trial. The acknowledgement of this constitutional error resulted in Judge Nelson’s recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) that Ms. Lucio’s conviction and death sentence be overturned. The ruling marks the latest chapter in a saga that saw Ms. Lucio narrowly avoid an execution date in 2022 following a highly publicized clemency campaign over concerns she had been wrongfully convicted.

Ms. Lucio was convicted and sentenced to death for the death of her 2-year-old daughter in 2008 but has always maintained her daughter died of complications relating to fall. Ms. Lucio says she falsely confessed after five hours of intense police interrogation on the evening her daughter died. Attorneys for Ms. Lucio recently presented expert opinion that her daughter was not murdered, but rather succumbed to head trauma from the accidental fall two days prior to her death. Judge Nelson ultimately determined that Ms. Lucio “met her burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she would not have been convicted in light of the suppressed evidence.” The TCCA will now have the final say about whether Ms. Lucio’s conviction will be set aside.

A week before Judge Nelson’s findings were entered, Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz and Innocence Project attorney Vanessa Potkin released a joint statement about the Agreed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law they submitted in January 2023. “Under Texas procedure the trial court must make a recommendation to the CCA which is the only court that can vacate a conviction,” the statement explained. “We are hopeful Melissa’s case will be resolved,” the statement added. Jordan Steiker, the Director of University of Texas Law School’s Capital Punishment Center called this agreement “exceptionally rare,” as both the prosecution and defense concurred that prosecutorial misconduct occurred during Ms. Lucio’s trial.

Just two days before her scheduled execution in April 2022, the TCCA ruled that four claims filed by Ms. Lucio’s attorneys met the requirements to grant a stay of execution. In its opinion, the TCCA asked the Cameron County court to review these four issues, including whether prosecutors failed to turn over favorable evidence that was material to the outcome of her trial. The Agreed Findings focused on the question about material evidence, particularly evidence indicating that one of Ms. Lucio’s other children saw the child fall and that reports from Child Protective Services indicate her children told officials she was not abusive to any of them. Additional evidence indicates that Ms. Lucio’s children told CPS that she was worried about her daughter after the fall and cared greatly for her before she died. At the time of Ms. Lucio’s trial, her attorneys did not have full copies of these reports, only summaries that did not include this favorable evidence.

In a statement from Ms. Lucio’s sons and daughter-in-law, her family thanked her “legal team for their hard work to bring the truth to light and to D.A. Saenz for taking another look at [their] mother’s case and recognizing that she did not receive a fair trial and her conviction should be overturned.” Acknowledging that evidence was withheld in their mother’s case, her family “hope[s] and pray[s] the Court of Criminal Appeals will agree with the District Attorney, the defense, and Judge Nelson and our mother can come home to her family. It’s been 17 years that we have been without her. We love her and miss her and can’t wait to hug her.


Mark Reagan, Melissa Lucio death penal­ty case head­ed back to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, myRGV​.com, April 15, 2024; William Melhado, State dis­trict judge rec­om­mends over­turn­ing Melissa Lucio’s death sen­tence, Texas Tribune, April 152024.

See Judge Nelson’s order, here.

See Agreed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, here.