*For many years, I’ve served as a spiritual advisor on Texas’ Death Row. For all my guys that were executed, there were very few people fighting for them. In fact, most executions in Texas are rarely publicly challenged at all.
Every couple of years, a death penalty case arises that draws the interest of the wider public. Most of these cases don’t get any attention until months (sometimes even days) before the actual execution is about to take place. In that short amount of time, supporters seek to galvanize the public to stop the execution. In most of these cases, innocence is claimed. Families are marched out in front of the cameras. Attorney’s claim new evidence. Organizations are launched. New witnesses pop up. Celebrities speak out about the case. Leaders of these moments promise to do whatever it takes to stop the execution. Final interviews with the condemned take place that are broadcast incessantly. Posts, editorials, signs, marches and rallies are all utilized. Everyone demands an answer to the same question, “Are you going to stand by as the state executes an innocent person?” Unfortunately, most of the time these efforts are not successful. In time, the executed person is forgotten, and the state goes on about the business of executing other people. When asked about the case later, those involved always declare that they did all that they could do. When I think about all of the cases that came before, I often doubt such words.
Melissa Lucio is innocent of the February 2007 murder of her daughter, Mariah. The death was an accident. The confession that Lucio gave police was coerced. The state presented no evidence that Lucio had ever abused any of her children. Lucio had terrible representation at trial. The Cameron County District Attorney who prosecuted the case was later sent to prison for corruption in similar cases. Other key pieces of evidence have been called into question. If Melissa Lucio is executed, it won’t because of any of this information. If Lucio is executed…and those on death row who come after her…it will be because most of her supporters have only gotten involved in this case as it has garnered public attention. Knowing this, state leaders just ride these types of cases out…because they know they will only have to endure such pressure every couple of years…and my fear is that that’s what’s about to happen in this case.
Since 1982, 573 people have been executed in Texas. With that in mind, easily less than 10 have received the type of attention that Melissa Lucio’s case is. Imagine if all 573 had. Would we still be sitting here talking about this? I doubt it.
Less than one week prior to Melissa Lucio’s scheduled execution on April 27, convicted cop-killer over 80 years-old Carl Buntion is scheduled to be executed. Why isn’t anybody talking about Buntion? Because…unfortunately Lucio’s supporters only seem to care about their moment…and not the wider death penalty abolition movement. If people continue coming in and out of the movement like this, there will be plenty more Melissa Lucios and Carl Buntions.