Sep. 29-A visiting state district judge has denied a request from attorneys representing a Harlingen mother sitting on death row for killing her daughter that 138th state District Judge Gabriela "Gabby" Garcia recuse herself from hearing the case.
Judge Mario E. Ramirez Jr., of the 332 state District Court in Hidalgo County, signed the motion Wednesday writing "there are no grounds to disqualify Judge Gabriela Garcia. There are no grounds to recuse Judge Gabriela Garcia. It is hereby ordered that the defendant's motion to disqualify or recuse Judge Gabriela Garcia is denied," court documents reflect.
Lucio's defense team in February 2022 filed a motion asking that District Attorney Luis V. Saenz and Garcia be kept from prosecuting and trying the case because two key members of Lucio's defense team now work for Saenz and Garcia.
Peter Gilman, Lucio's defense attorney in her 2008 capital murder trial, is now an assistant district attorney for the Cameron County DA's office. Irma Gilman, Garcia's court administrator, also served on Lucio's 2008 defense team.
The motion against Garcia cited the following reasons:
- There is a conclusive presumption that court administrator Gilman shared with her employer, Judge Garcia confidential information that Mrs. Gilman obtained through her work on Ms. Lucio's case.
- Judge Garcia's impartiality might reasonably be questioned based on her court administrator's direct role in Ms. Lucio's defense.
- Judge Garcia's impartiality might reasonably be questioned based on the role her court administrator in current and anticipated proceedings.
The state responded to the motion in June stating "Judge Garcia's only action in this case has been to set Lucio for execution in furtherance of the judgment and mandates of the courts."
The response reads that Garcia never served as a lawyer in Lucio's case, nor previously practiced with a lawyer in the Lucio case, nor does she have individual or familial interest in the Lucio case.
"Lucio offers no evidence why any reasonable person would question Judge Garcia's ability to remain impartial in this case," the response states.
The response further stated, "Judge Garcia enjoys a presumption of fairness, and there is no evidence to question her impartiality. As such, Lucio should be summarily denied in her request to disqualify/and or recuse Judge Garcia."
Court documents indicate that no ruling on the removal of Saenz from trying the case has been issued.
A Cameron County jury in 2008 found Melissa Elizabeth Lucio guilty on one count of capital murder for causing the death of Mariah Alvarez. The little girl had been beaten, prosecutors said. Lucio denies killing her daughter.
On the night of Mariah's death on Feb. 17, 2007, Lucio told police and EMS personnel that Mariah had fallen down some stairs, according to federal court documents.
Later that night, during a videotaped interview with investigators, Lucio explained that she had caused the bruises on Mariah's body by spanking Mariah "real hard"... and Lucio said "nobody else would hit her."
During an interview with a Texas Ranger, Lucio later admitted she was responsible for her daughter's death, prosecutors said. Lucio's appeal's attorney says she was coerced to confess.
Lucio's execution date had been scheduled for April 27, but she was granted a stay by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled to halt the execution so that a lower court could review four claims from the defendant's nine assertions:
-"But for the State's use of false testimony, no juror would have convicted her;"
-"previously unavailable scientific evidence would preclude her conviction;"
-"she is actually innocent;"
- and "the State suppressed favorable material evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland"
Court records reflect that no hearing dates have been scheduled in the case.
Lucio remains on death row and is at the Mountainview Unit in Gatesville.