The more you learn about the United States the more you feel they are the modern day Rome. Meaning they climbed to the top of the mountain and are now hurtling back to ground. It is going to be a spectacular crash landing, I fear. With the mishandling of the pandemic, the absolute mess of their political system, the presidency of Trump, rampant systematic racism, police brutality, horrible weather battering different parts of the country with wildfires, earthquakes and hurricanes, and obvious divide within the population you have to feel like something is going to give.
When a country is in such a mess one of the first populations to suffer the brunt of it is the poor. If you are poor and female and non-white then you are really in a pickle. This is the situation for much of the Hispanic population within the state of Texas. Another example of systematic racism. Everything is set up to impede that population from success.
Even more than impediment is what happened to Melissa Lucio. Melissa is the first Hispanic woman to be sentenced to death in the state of Texas. Whether you are for or against the penalty this seems like a case of total miscarriage of justice. It has been going on for over 11 years. She has been on Death Row that long and is on her last kick at the bucket when it comes to appeals while this documentary is being filmed.
Director Sabrina Van Tassel (The Silenced Walls, Women on Death Row) attempts to bring the whole picture to the viewer. How Melissa grew up, her relationships with men, her family, her 14 children, her present day lawyer, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, family friends, her former lawyer, and an interview (through the glass and over the phone) with Melissa herself.
The mother of 14 children was never seen to be violent towards her children. Yet, when her youngest daughter, 2 and a half year old Mariah was found dead with bruises all over her body from head to toe it was Melissa who was found guilty.
Right from the beginning the cards were stacked against her. She was arrested and then interrogated for hours without food, drink or bathroom. The detectives who questioned her were relentless, seeming like they believed her guilty without even really investigating. Under this treatment she cracked and finally confessed to the murder. That is even though she said she was innocent. She just couldn’t bear it anymore.
Then her lawyer completely mishandled Melissa’s case. Pressured her to take the prosecution’s deal of 30 years in prison. Melissa, who believed the truth would set her free, refused it. Still she was found guilty.
Then the district attourney, who was running for reelection on his tough stance against crime, went for the death penalty. Basically everything which could go wrong did for Melissa.
Slowly everything about the case is laid out in front of us. Every detail gone over. The more the case and evidence is gone over the more you won’t be able to believe Melissa is still on Death Row. There even seems to be some evidence that one of her other children, a daughter named Alex, might be responsible for her half sibling’s death.
It becomes painfully clear that this is a case in which legal bias and presumed guilt has resulted in an innocent person not only behind bars, but sentenced to death. There is no evidence that any real investigation was carried out. They found a person who because of her situation in life, was easy to pin the crime on. The legal system is shown to be flawed and it was aided and abetted by corruption on several levels. Van Tassel attempts to get to the bottom of it while giving someone who has been largely silenced to this point a voice.
The documentary is now available on demand.