“The state of Texas wants to kill me,” Melissa Lucio tells the camera.

We meet Melissa on the other side of plexiglass, a position she has assumed since 2008 at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas. Melissa Lucio was sentenced by the state of Texas to death for murder of her 2-year-old daughter Mariah, who died two days after falling down a flight of stairs. She has since spent over eleven years of her life on death row, and has maintained her innocence throughout.

The film, The State of Texas vs. Melissa, will show for the first time in Taiwan as part of the Murder By Numbers Film Festival, held every three years by the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty.

Across the world, incarcerated women are more vulnerable to abuse and other rights violations as their case unfolds. This takes place as early as initial detention at the police station, during trial, or in prison. Melissa’s case is no exception.


Photo Credit: ‘The State of Texas vs. Melissa’ Press Kit

The film features interviews with legal, psychological, and forensic experts who are knowledgeable about Melissa’s case. All speak of various ways in which Melissa became a victim of an unjust system and procedural unfairness. Most egregiously, favorable evidence that may have attested to her innocence was withheld from the court.

Director Sabrina Van Tassel displayed a wealth of information about Melissa’s case in a compelling form. The questions raised by the film are generally answered adequately, and yet its clear message does little to detract from its moral and emotional power.

Texas vs. Melissa opens a portal for us to view the lives of others, but also reflects back to us where we stand in relation. We empower our governments to sentence people to death. When the state has the ultimate power of the death penalty, it operates with the tacit consent of the governed to deprive individual people of their right to life. As members of a system that deprives others of life, this film presents audiences with a question: Will death to one for the death of another serve as justice? Is there no other way than death?

The Taiwan premiere of this film will take place on October 9th as the closing film of the seventh Murder by Numbers Film Festival. Films related to unjust cases, death row, and state violence will be shown throughout Taiwan in October and November as part of this film festival.

Murder by Numbers Film Festival has been held every three years since 2004. Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty organizes this event and cooperates extensively with human rights groups and local organizations at home and abroad, reaching out to important filmmakers who care about judicial issues, and inviting domestic government agencies and foreign embassies in Taiwan to participate.

Each film festival has promoted social dialogue, bringing participants a broader perspective and a deeper understanding. Other films on view include Free Men by Anne-Frédérique WIDMANN, Too Flawed to Fix by Jackie Rivet-River and John Lyons, and Paths of Glory by Stanley Kubrick.

The Murder by Numbers film festival opens Friday, October 7th in Taipei. For more information, visit taedp.org.tw.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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