High school students wrote to Melissa Lucio to show their support, one month before the scheduled execution
1 April 2022
In February, high school students from the Lycée Augustin Thierry, Blois (France), worked on Melissa Lucio’s story in the framework of ECPM’s education program. Very touched by her situation, they took the initiative to write her letters of support, as well as writing to Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, to ask him to reconsider the unfair execution of Melissa Lucio planned on April 27.
Ms Weil, who initiated the project, agreed to share why she decided to raise awareness among her students about the importance of abolishing the death penalty.
Why was it important for you to raise awareness among your students about the death penalty?
This project started when I watched Sabrina’s Van Tassel’s movie, The State of Texas vs. Melissa. Her investigation to establish the truth is exemplary, I wanted to share it with our students. In high school, they acquire the necessary tools to learn how to nuance their opinion, why they should not trust their prejudices and be wary of the reactions they can have when not taking into account all the parameters for assessing a situation. Melissa is accused of infanticide from the very first scenes of the documentary, her guilt is beyond doubt. Everything is against her, the audience has no choice but to get into the overwhelming details of the accusation. The director takes our hand and guides us through all the necessary evidences for us to understand that Melissa Lucio is not guilty.
The movie does not rush anything. The audience gets to hear the witnesses of the accusation, Melissa’s relatives and people who supports her, and Melissa herself, behind the glass that still separates her from the world. From there, our confidence gradually fades, doubts arise until we discover the grey areas of the charges. No one comes out of this film unscathed because it questions the unshakeable faith one can have in our justice system. A judicial system is always fallible because doubt is possible. Mistakes are tragic because they definitively condemn a human being. Every death sentence is unfair because it permanently deprives a person of the right to live.
Cinema sometimes has the power of reality to shake up our certainties and move the lines to make us more aware of what is happening in our world. In the room during the screening, you could feel the extreme attention of everyone. When the room lit up again, there was no doubt on how such thing could happen. Everyone understood. Some asked questions, others remained silent. We knew it was no longer a matter of procrastinating but of acting to postpone the inevitable. Some students wrote to Melissa, others may have told their friends about her. With this film, everyone has taken a piece of this condemned woman's pain and made it their own. This pain will evolve, and one day, perhaps it will become one of the voices fighting to abolish the so-called capital punishment. High school is the place to learn our rights, including those we sometimes forget, such as the value of every human life. Melissa Lucio is more than a name today, she is someone who exists in our thoughts.
Would you like to pass on a message to teachers who might be reluctant to educate their students about the death penalty?
It is not an easy topic to talk about with our students. We just know that it is an important matter that they should be aware of. The empathy that we feel when seeing the movie enables us to assess the importance of the human rights, the fight against discriminations, the solidarity, the struggle to educate and emancipate women, the commitment of a director to show us the other side of the story. The conversations we had in class thanks to ECPM and Amnesty international rose awareness among our students about the struggles that are being led by the associations and the citizens to fight for the human rights to be respected. Nothing is taken for granted and we learned that the public opinion might be in favour of retrieving the death penalty. When they understand that this type of sentence mostly concerns minorities, the students understand that the justice system isn’t always as right as they thought. In some countries, the charges are derisory. They all need to understand this to be more tolerant and to learn about the mechanisms that lead to such unfair allegations.
Melissa’s story deeply touched the students
Ms. White and Ms. Weil, the teachers, collected the student’s reactions after the screening of the movie and ECPM’s intervention at school. Some of them where surprised to see that a death sentence can be required for drug offenses or money laundering, and by the way it is applied in some countries. Some others insisted on the feelings of hanger and compassion they had during the screening. “It gave us the sensation that Melissa’s sentence is all about public opinion. In 2022, women of colour with poor financial capacity always have to suffer the burden of the society’s ills.” Said Laura and Lilian, with regret.
As many other women sentenced to death, the mitigating circumstances weren’t taken into account during Melissa’s trial and proofs of innocence have been ignored deliberately. “We wrote to Melissa to support her and to share hope with her”, told Emma, Satine and Anaëlle, “we want to tell her how much of a loving mother she is”, added Maël.
Melissa’s death sentence was pronounced by Armando Villalobos, who was up for re-election in Cameron County, Texas. He was seeking to redeem himself after the mediatized escape of a criminal from a prison that jeopardized his re-election. Today, Armando Villalobos is serving a 13-year prison sentence for bribery and extortion. "A man cannot decide whether someone’s time has come" said Titouan, Jules and Gaspard. This is why Maël and her friends wrote to the current Governor of the State of Texas: "I felt that we had to do everything in our power to prevent Melissa's execution", she explains.
In one sentence, Ninon sums it up: "Let's fight against the injustice of the death penalty".