The State of Texas vs. Melissa | 2020 Tribeca Film Festival | Tribeca

New to DVD this week:
The State of Texas Vs. Melissa

Sabrina Van Tassel

World Premiere:
Tribeca 2020 (unscreened)

Select Festivals:
Tallgrass, Raindance, FIPADOC

A mother sentenced to death for killing her own young daughter faces her last appeal.

In 2007, after hours of police interrogation, Melissa Lucio confessed to killing her two-year-old daughter, Mariah. Absent this confession, Texas state prosecutors had no direct evidence linking Lucio to her daughter’s death – no witnesses and no history of violence or abuse. What they did have was a poor woman of color with 14 children and a drug problem, and, facing a public outraged by the recent mishandling of a case involving a murderer, the need to show they were tough on crime. While it would not be surprising if Lucio claimed her confession was coerced under duress of incessant interrogation – a frequent cause for false confessions – the situation is not as clear as it might be in director Sabrina Van Tassel’s telling. There’s also the parallel explanation that Lucio voluntarily provided the false confession to protect one of her other daughters, who apparently hated her younger half-sister and was witnessed hurting her at other times. There’s a record that Lucio’s defense attorney knew about this possibility but suppressed it, but this theory is never conclusively established as Lucio’s reasoning. Instead, it’s one of several issues that Van Tassel brings up, including a crooked DA, the possibility that the medical examiner misread the damage to Mariah’s body and jumped to conclusions of abuse, and the systemic racial biases in the criminal justice system that put Lucio at an immediate disadvantage. That there was likely a miscarriage of justice in Lucio’s case seems clear, but the film’s storytelling remains frustratingly unfocused.

1 Comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Releases


  1. Tonie

    Ultimately she is responsible for the girl’s death. Having 14 kids and living in poverty and the girl fell down the stairs, well where was she then? She is responsible no way around it.

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