This Doc. Explores the Case of Melissa Lucio, First Latina Sentenced to Death in TX

Lead Photo: Courtesy of Film Rise
Courtesy of Film Rise
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Melissa Elizabeth Lucio was the first Latina to be sentenced to death in the state of Texas. In 2007, Lucio was arrested for the murder of her two-year-old daughter. She was placed on death row a year later.

In the true-crime documentary The State of Texas vs. Melissa, director Sabrina Van Tassel (Women On Death Row) explores the case of the Rio Grande Valley mother, who supporters say was imprisoned after an unfair trial.

Last summer the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Lucio’s conviction, but she is still facing the death penalty because the state has appealed the decision and the hearing has been delayed because of COVID-19.

In her own words, Lucio, a mother of 14, speaks to Van Tassell from prison about her life and what she says led up to the allegedly accidental death of her daughter, who she says died after she fell down a flight of stairs.

In the trailer, a medical examiner says the signs of physical abuse to the toddler added up to what she calls the “worst case of child abuse I had ever seen.” Also presented is an archived interview with one of the child’s siblings, who says he witnessed his sister’s fall.

The story takes a shady political turn when Armando Villalobos, the district attorney at the time, is sentenced to 13 years in prison for bribery and extortion. The trailer mentions that he was “compensated for favorable treatment in criminal cases.”

One of Lucio’s grown daughters also speaks in the trailer: “That was the plan—to put her away,” she says. “My mother [was a] poor, perfect target to help [Villalobos] win his election.”

The State of Texas vs. Melissa is an official selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, which is currently underway online. The documentary debuts on VOD platforms October 20.