yesAbrina Butler-Smith was about to be executed for her appearance, or rather, for her appearance.
In 1989, she was rushed to a Mississippi hospital after her young son Walter stopped breathing and she couldn’t resuscitate him with CPR. The police arrest Mrs. Butler-Smith, who is black, the same day Walter died, believing that the bruises on her chest from CPR were the result of child abuse.
Butler-Smith was a teenager at the time, in total shock, and the prosecutor said she must have been guilty because she was not openly emotional in court during her trial the following year.
“They said I didn’t look emotional enough,” he said. the independent. “I lost my son and I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know what was happening and why. I spent several years without knowing what he died of. How can you tell me how to feel about my own son?
After she obtained a new trial, where new evidence came to light, Ms. Butler-Smith in 1995 became one of only two women in the US to walk off death row. She now expects the same remarkable turn of events to occur in the case of Melissa Lucio, another mother who she says has been wrongly judged by the justice system.
Lucio was arrested in 2007 and prosecutors argued that she had abused her daughter Mariah to death.
Lucio, a mother of 14 children, had struggled with poverty, experiencing sexual abuse, drug addiction and homelessness, but no one in her family said she was ever violent. There were no witnesses or physical evidence to prove that she killed her daughter.
What’s more, some of Lucio’s children said they had seen Mariah fall down a flight of stairs in the days before her death and suffer abuse at the hands of her brothers.
Still, after a lengthy and at times coercive interrogation process, the pregnant Lucio was tried and sentenced to death, with her lawyer refraining from calling any of her family members to testify.
A national movement for innocence with supporters like Kim Kardashian backs his story, but unless Texas officials intervene, Lucio will be executed on April 27.
Lucio, according to Ms. Butler-Smith, who wrote an impassioned opinion piece in she about the case, is a classic example of the ways in which women of color receive little attention in the capital punishment process.
“Judge on race,” he said. “Women are judged harshly when it comes to their children. We’re not looking, as far as, what might be going on with us. Most of the time it’s always about how we look and how we present ourselves.”
Texas has a long history of executing Latinos like Lucio. The state has also executed by far the most people, 573, in modern US history.
A disproportionate number of those on death row in the state are people of color compared to the general population, according to Kristin Houlé Cuellar, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
“What we’re seeing, even as the use of the death penalty and new death sentences are declining, they continue to be disproportionately imposed on people of color,” he said. the independent.
Lucio, who didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a perfect mother or an innocent person in Texas, may never have had a fair chance.
“That is why we must fight for Melissa and give her the opportunity to prove her innocence,” said Ms. Butler-Smith.
Lucio’s attorneys have called on state officials, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, to grant clemency or postpone the election, arguing that a group of outside experts and new evidence suggest his conviction is based on abusive interrogation, misconduct. science and shoddy legal defense work.
One thing that encourages Ms. Butler-Smith is how much more the public is talking about the death penalty, compared to the 1990s Tough on Crime.
Most Texas state lawmakers have called on the state to stop the execution, a shocking development in a GOP stronghold, and local District Attorney Lucio has said he will drop the case if the state doesn’t intervene.
Still, despite this support, Ms. Butler-Smith knows firsthand how difficult it can be to be a mother behind bars, away from a family abroad.
Her other little son once called and asked, “Mom, are they going to kill you with a needle?”
“I cried like a baby when my son asked me that. That was very painful for me,” he said. “Here I am facing death and people are saying that to my son.”
Ms. Butler-Smith, who now lives in Memphis, sent an audio message to Lucio, telling him to stay strong.
“I just told him to keep his head up, to stay strong going through this. I know it’s not easy,” she said, adding, “We love you. We are all fighting for her.”
The Independent and the non-profit organization Responsible entrepreneurship for justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States. The RBIJ has attracted over 150 known signatories to its Business Leaders Statement Against the Death Penalty, with The Independent coming last on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.