I have been highlighting the potential for a gross miscarriage of justice that was due to occur today in Texas when Melissa Lucio was to be executed for the murder of her two-year old child despite the increasing evidence that she might be innocent and the appalling way that she was interrogated, using many standard coercive methods, that resulted in a confession. The potential for a massive injustice was so great that state Republican lawmakers, even those who support the death penalty, joined in a bipartisan effort to have her case reviewed. Five members of the original jury that convicted her said that if they had been told the full story, they would not have voted to convict.
Yesterday, a state appeals court stayed the execution and sent her case back to a lower court to take into account new evidence.
New evidence presented by Lucio’s legal team in a 266-page petition suggested that the murder of her toddler daughter had never even happened. Medical and eye-witness evidence pointed towards Mariah having died after accidentally falling down a steep flight of stairs at Lucio’s rental home.
Sandra Babcock, one of Lucio’s legal team and a professor at Cornell law school, said that the court’s decision paved the way for a new trial which would allow a jury to hear evidence that was not presented at her original trial in 2008. Five of the 12 jury members from that trial have said that had they known what is now known about the case they would have decided differently.
Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project, who also represents Lucio, said: “Medical evidence shows that Mariah’s death was consistent with an accident. But for the State’s use of false testimony, no juror would have voted to convict Melissa of capital murder because no murder occurred.”
Jeff Leach, the Republican lawmaker who led the push in the Texas House for a delay of execution, greeted the news of the stay with delight, saying it would secure “justice for Melissa and for Mariah and the entire Lucio family”.
Earlier, Leach told the Guardian in an interview that the failings of the prosecution in Lucio’s case had shaken his belief in the death penalty. He said her treatment had “given me great pause and made me reconsider my stance on whether this is the way we want to do things in the state of Texas”.
In the US, some police and prosecutors seem to be willing to go to any lengths to obtain a conviction, even to the extent of coercing suspects, hiding exculpatory evidence, and using bad forensic ‘science’, They take advantage of people’s ignorance of the law and of their rights to get them to incriminate themselves.
Take the case of Antwaun Cubie.
Antwaun Cubie, at 18, had been in the police station in Oak Park, Ill. for hours. He said police had beaten him, and was frightened and exhausted. He wanted to call his mother, and but said a detective told him he needed to sign and date a document to make the call. Cubie signed the blank page.
The signature became part of a typed, two-page confession in which Cubie supposedly admitted to fatally shooting a friend. Cubie’s legal team agrees detectives falsified the confession. “The handwritten notes were destroyed. It’s not videotaped, it’s not recorded. You don’t know what went on in there. That means these are not his words,” says Joe O’Hara with the law firm Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila in Chicago, which has taken on Cubie’s case pro bono.
The typed confession, however, was a critical part of the case against Cubie, who never had a criminal record prior to his 1996 arrest. A judge sentenced him to life in prison. Cubie is now 44 years old and still behind bars.
Some law enforcement agencies have developed a “noble cause” belief system in which they perceive themselves as fighting a war on crime. In this sense, the officer’s responsibility is only to the victim.
Police departments with a “noble cause” culture are more likely to develop “noble cause corruption,” which are illegal acts committed to secure a conviction. “The Magic Pencil,” in particular, is a noted form of noble cause corruption. With “The Magic Pencil,” a police officer fictionalizes an incident report with the purpose of criminalizing the suspect.
“The Magic Pencil” is associated with an over commitment to the cause, and a belief that the end goal of fighting crime justifies the means. It is similar to corrupt means such as “testilying” (lying on the witness stand), or torture during interrogation.
The death penalty is a terrible thing under the best of circumstances. To have it in such a flawed justice system as that which exists in the US will inevitably lead to the deaths of innocent people.