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'It's been very emotional': John Lucio travels to Gatesville to visit mom Melissa on death row

Melissa Lucio is scheduled to be executed by Texas in less than a week. A lot of people, including politicians from both parties, believe she is innocent.

GATESVILLE, Texas — Time is running out for Melissa Lucio, her loved ones and total strangers who are fighting to save her from the Texas execution chamber.

The South Texas mother of 14 is on death row after she was convicted of killing her youngest daughter, Mariah, in 2007. 

Lucio's case has drawn attention from politicians, celebrities, and the national media after questions about the lack of evidence and her trial cast doubt on her guilt. Five of the jurors who convicted Lucio have asked the state parole board and Gov. Greg Abbott to stop her execution. 

Abbott was asked about the case at a news conference on Thursday.

"I still have not received a report from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. That's a requirement for the governor to receive that before any action is taken," Abbott said. "And when I receive that, I'll consider it and take whatever action I think is appropriate."

SPECIAL REPORT: Melissa Lucio case and why so many believe she is innocent

'It's been really, really hard'

No one is fighting harder to save her than Melissa's children. They have traveled the state to plead for mercy since her execution date was scheduled in January. 

Oldest son John Lucio and his wife, Michelle, made the all-too familiar eight-hour drive to the Gatesville Unit Thursday morning to visit Melissa. He got a little choked up when he spoke with reporters from the car.

"It's been very emotional. I don't even know the words to tell her," John said as they arrived in Gatesville. "Just being days away from April 27, it's been really, really hard. It's not gonna be the same as every other visit we've had. Every time we go there, I've hidden the pain. I hide it all, we can no longer hide it... we gotta let it out with her."

WATCH: Interview with John Lucio during drive to Gatesville to visit mom

The family is being allowed four-hour visits this week. Next week, they'll be able to spend eight hours with Melissa each day. 

"We're really looking forward to seeing her," Michelle said. "It's been a very emotional, you know, few months. But these last couple of days have been extremely more emotional."

Michelle said they appreciate all the love and support.

"We're really gonna enjoy these next few days that we're gonna have to visit with her, so we're praying, of course, for the best outcome. We appreciate everyone having them in their prayers. She does know about it. We let her know all the time."

What happened to Mariah Alavarez?

It was a February day, 15 years ago, when the family of 2-year-old Mariah Alvarez called 911 after the toddler was found unresponsive in their South Texas apartment. 

Lucio and her children told police that Mariah, the youngest of 12 kids, had accidentally fallen down the stairs a couple of days earlier. But police suspected the child had been killed after they found several bruises, scratches, and what appeared to be a bite mark on her body. Mariah’s death was later determined to be caused by a blunt-force injury to the head.

Lucio, the main suspect from the beginning, stood by her story during a lengthy, late-night interrogation the night of her daughter's death and into the next morning. Exhausted and pregnant with twins, Lucio broke down and admitted she had spanked and bitten Mariah.

“What do you want me to say? I’m responsible for it,” Lucio said when a Texas Ranger pushed her on the apparent bite mark on Mariah’s back, according to the Texas Tribune. Her supporters believe her confession of abuse was coerced.

Lucio never confessed to killing her daughter or causing her head injury, but the other admissions led police and prosecutors to charge her with capital murder. 

Jurors have change of heart

Juror Johnny Galvan Jr. testified at a recent hearing to call for a new trial. 

"I am now convinced that the jury got it wrong, and it's too much doubt to execute Ms. Lucio," Galvan said. "If I could take back my vote, I would. I would be haunted by Ms. Lucio's execution if it goes forward."

Galvan also said he felt pressured by other jurors to sentence Lucio. 

Jury forewoman Melissa Quintanilla has also had a change of heart.

“The trial left me thinking Melissa Lucio was a monster, but now I see her as a human being who was made to seem evil because I didn’t have all the evidence I needed to make that decision,” Quintanilla said in an affidavit to the parole board. “Ms. Lucio deserves a new trial and for a new jury to hear this evidence.”

Lucio gave birth to twins in a prison hospital and was forced to give them up for adoption.

Bipartisan supporters in Texas legislature pressure prosecutor

Democrats and Republicans in the Texas Legislature don't agree on much these days, but lawmakers from both sides of the aisle believe Lucio's execution should be halted. In fact, there's a bipartisan effort to grant clemency to the woman who's scheduled to become the first-ever Latina executed by Texas.

The current Cameron County prosecutor, who set Lucio's execution date, has been under pressure to intervene.

District Attorney Luis Saenz has the option to withdraw his request to set the execution date. Until last week, Saenz insisted that he stood by the process that led to Lucio's conviction. 

But after hearing from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle during the emotional hearing in Austin, Saenz relented. If the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or Abbott doesn't stop the execution, he said he would withdraw his request.

“If defendant Lucio does not get a stay by a certain day, then I will do what I have to do and stop it," Saenz said. 

'I know she's innocent'

Lucio's children, siblings, and mother will continue working tirelessly to shine the spotlight on her case.

"I mean, I believe God is the one that’s pushing me. I mean, I’m running on fumes," John Lucio told KHOU 11 News reporter Melissa Correa after testifying at the hearing last week.

John, who was 15 when his youngest sister died, believes his mother is innocent -- not only of causing Mariah's death but of abusing her. 

"I know she's innocent," John said. "My mother was a woman that lacked discipline in our family, which we very much needed. She didn't know what discipline was. We were spoiled kids. She was not a woman of abuse."

John said his mother's defense attorney did a poor job and believes there was corruption involved in her case.

 "I mean, if we had the money, my mother wouldn’t be on death row," John said.

He said his mother, who gets dozens of letters of support daily from all over the world, is praying for her supporters and wishes she could respond to them all.

As the clock ticks toward April 27, Lucio and are loved ones are praying that the people in power are paying attention and will take action before it's too late.

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