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A woman on death row in Texas has won a stay of execution

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In a case that drew national attention, a woman on death row in Texas has won a stay of execution. Melissa Lucio's murder conviction will be reviewed by the state's criminal court of appeals. We get details from Gaige Davila of Texas Public Radio.

GAIGE DAVILA, BYLINE: When told she would not be executed this week, Melissa Lucio could not hold back the tears.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF LEACH: You haven't heard the news yet.

MELISSA LUCIO: No, what happened?

LEACH: The court of criminal appeals issued a stay of your execution for Wednesday.

M LUCIO: Are you serious? Are you serious? (Crying).

DAVILA: That's Texas State Representative Jeff Leach breaking the news to Lucio yesterday afternoon in audio first published by the Texas Tribune. Lucio was sentenced to prison in 2008 for the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Maria. She says the child died after falling down the stairs outside their apartment. Defense attorneys say police coerced her to confess and allege new evidence proves her daughter's injuries were from a fall and not from child abuse, as prosecutors said. Lucio's oldest son, John, has high hopes for his mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN LUCIO: We're going to believe in God, and we're going to continue believing him and keep our faith up with him and keep on fighting this fight till we bring her home. She's no longer going to be executed. My mother will be free soon.

DAVILA: Lucio was scheduled to be executed tomorrow. Yesterday, one of her lawyers, Vanessa Potkin, explained the significance of the ruling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VANESSA POTKIN: Today's stay and remand to have hearings on the new evidence of her innocence really opens the door to the potential of a new trial in her case and ultimately complete vindication.

DAVILA: In a state with the country's highest execution rate, Lucio's case is atypical. In the last five years, only 40% of stays have been granted to Texas death row inmates, and only one of those stays ended up resulting in a reduced sentence. A 2020 documentary on Lucio's case renewed interest in her story. This led to demonstrations being organized across the state on her behalf. The case caught the attention of John Oliver and Kim Kardashian, and it has generated bipartisan support in the Texas legislature for the state's sole Latina inmate on death row.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Free Melissa Lucio. Free Melissa Lucio.

DAVILA: Lucio says she is grateful for the new chance to prove her innocence.

For NPR News, I'm Gaige Davila in Port Isabel, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.