• Melissa Lucio, who was put on death row for the murder of her daughter, maintains her innocence to this day. (SBS)Source: SBS
'Women on Death Row' shines a spotlight on women who have been sentenced to death in the United States.
Jeremy Cassar

23 Nov 2018 - 3:45 PM  UPDATED 26 Nov 2018 - 11:16 AM

Coming up on SBS VICELAND is a prison documentary like you’ve never seen before. Women on Death Row, from French-American director Sabrina Van Tassel, profiles the rarely covered subject of women who have been sentenced to death in the United States, but who are yet to be executed.

In the United States, out of the 2,843 with a death sentence, 54 are women. They are incarcerated in 16 different states across the country. Van Tassel had permission to interview three of them. In Arizona and in Texas, they wait to be executed. 

The women have been convicted of unspeakable crimes: Child abduction; the murder of an entire family; violent acts that resulted in death. Some are undoubtedly guilty, some profess their innocence and in some cases, due to the disastrous realities from which they hail, it’s difficult not to feel conflicted over their fates.

The film goes beyond the charge sheet to get the real story of what led these women to death row. 


Melissa Lucio

In 2008, Texan mother Maria Lucio was sentenced to death by lethal injection for the murder of her 2-year-old daughter. Lucio claimed that her daughter had fallen down the stairs and hit her head, but the deceased’s additional injuries – including a broken arm, hair pulled from their roots, and disturbingly, bite marks in the back – proved otherwise.

Lucio maintains her innocence.


Linda Carty

This British national was put on death row in Texas for the abduction and murder of her 25-year-old neighbour, Joana Rodriguez. It is said that Carty committed the crime in order to steal Rodriguez’s newborn son and pass him off as her own.

Carty claims she was framed by local criminals for acting as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency, and evidence of coerced testimonies from co-defendants have led to public outcry for her re-trial. 


Shawna Forde

Motivated by disturbing anti-immigration ideology, Forde, a high-ranking member of the Minutemen Civil Defence Corps (MCDC), murdered 29-year-old Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia.

Born a US citizen, Forde devoted her days to vigilante groups who aimed to stop illegal Mexican immigrants from crossing the border. Members of the MCDC had kicked Forde out of the organisation due to “unstable” behaviour, causing her to form a small, radicalised splinter group called Minutemen American Defence (MAD). It is as the leader of this group that she ordered and committed the murders.


Women on Death Row premieres on Sunday 25 November at 8:35pm on SBS VICELAND. You can watch it now on SBS On Demand.