TRIBECA 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Death row is a place where no one wants to end up. Particularly if a person isn’t guilty. It’s not my place to say how often that happens, but in the case presented in The State of Texas Vs. Melissa, it did. Melissa Lucio was accused of murdering her youngest of 14 children, Mariah, in 2007. Over the course of the film, we are presented with information that leads us to believe that this was a large mistake on behalf of the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office and Melissa’s defense attorney, Peter Gilman.
Melissa was not a perfect mother. She had drug problems. The family was poor, sometimes even homeless. However, all signs point to Melissa not being a violent person. Under intense 7-hour-long interrogation by police, she admitted to hitting Mariah, even though later she denies it. Psychologist Dr. John Pinkerman says that a person who suffered abuse during their childhood, which Melissa did, has the likelihood of acquiescing to authority figures under duress, particularly if they’re male, like Melissa’s abusers were.
“…right before Melissa’s trial, a man who pleaded guilty to murder disappeared…”
The case is a perfect storm of misery. The State of Texas Vs. Melissa is incredibly sad to see unfold. We meet some of her children, her mother, her sisters, and several people who are working on her appellate case. Over the course of the film, we see how many mistakes were made with the handling of Melissa’s case. For example, one of her sons said Mariah was prone to falling and that he had seen her fall down the stairs before. Another claim was that one of Melissa’s older daughters, Alexandra, was the person who pushed Mariah down the stairs and was also the person responsible for the bruises. Melissa didn’t want to say this was true to anyone to save Alexandra from jail, and the defense attorney, Peter Gilman, didn’t want to ruin the life of a person who was so young.
"…most heart-wrenching moments come from scenes inside the prison talking to Melissa herself."