Stop the Execution of Michelle Byrom

Michelle Byrom is clearly not guilty of the crime for which the state plans to execute her next week.

We say this not out of moral opposition to the cruel and unusual nature—although it is—of the way the death penalty is administered in this country, nor are we quibbling over the technical minutiae of Byrom's case.

As Ronni Mott reports this week (see: "Justice Subverted?" on page 10), Byrom was arrested and convicted for orchestrating the June 1999 murder of her husband Edward Byrom Sr. Prosecutors in Tishomingo County argued at Byrom's trial that she hired a man named Joey Gillis to kill Edward Sr.

Up until that point, Byrom suffered a lifetime of abuse that had a jury heard about it could have been sufficiently mitigating for her to receive life imprisonment rather than death for the capital offense of murder-for-hire.

The most glaring fault with her conviction is that the evidence raises serious doubt that Michelle Byrom hired Joey Gillis or that Gillis killed Edward Sr. In fact, Michelle and Edward Sr.'s son, Junior, has confessed more than once in letters to killing his father—letters the jury never saw.

Early on, Junior had told the Tishomingo County sheriff about an elaborate plot involving his mother, but Junior said he was "scared, confused and high" during the interview.

Later, Junior recanted those statements through letters to his mother and to a court-appointed psychologist. In one letter to Michelle, Junior said after his father belittled him as a "bastard" and "no good mistake," Junior retrieved his father's pistol, crept into the room as Edward Sr. slept, and fired.

Junior made four known confessions; but on the stand, he stuck to the story he originally told sheriffs—that Gillis was the killer, and Michelle Byrom had hired Gillis for the hit. A jury found her guilty, and a judge sentenced her to death.

Despite those case problems, Mississippi's Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood has scheduled Michelle Byrom's execution for March 27. Another man, Charles Ray Crawford, is scheduled to be executed March 26. The state prefers to group executions together to minimize the costs; each execution costs taxpayers approximately $11,000.

We cannot ignore the irony that these executions come as a comprehensive prison-reform package heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant, which is expected to sign. The legislation aims to keep people out of prison who do not belong there.

Today, both Gillis, the accused shooter, and Junior, who confessed to the shooting, are out of prison as Michelle Byrom languishes in prison and her health continues to spiral downward.

It would be gravely inhumane to execute a woman as mentally and physically ill as Michelle Byrom—and a frightening contrast to all the brutal woman-killers that previous Gov. Haley Barbour pardoned, a story revealed to Mississippians for the first time in 2008 by Ronni Mott.

To execute Michelle Byrom for a crime that she did not commit would be one of the worst miscarriages of justices in modern Mississippi history. This execution must not happen.

Comments

sweetpeab 5 months, 3 weeks ago

It is clear that the woman is being denied justice, despite knowledge of the fact that she is innocent. Ignoring all the fact, the justice system is shamelessly putting her to death. How much more low can the justice system stoop down. This is plain murder. Its not justice. This is an abomination. Her actions were motivated by her desire to protect her son and the fact that she herself was in on so many medications, she was not competent enough to post either her own defense or any one else's for that matter. It is clear that the prosecutors have not brought the case to trial again, after the new information about her innocence was bought to light. In the Bible, a person who wrongly punishes an innocent person is to share the same death as the innocent person who was murdered and wrongfully accused. In this case every judge, prosecutor and responsible person would be guilty of her murder. Even if they will not be held responsible in this life, there is no way they can escape the ultimate judge of us all. So act now and give the woman her day in court and her chance to plead her innocence.

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Vandenbroek 5 months, 3 weeks ago

As the old saying goes, money talks ... BS walks!

Major corporations who have contributed to the Governor should be called-upon to request Mr. Bryant place a stay of execution on Ms. Byrom's fate and order a new trial where fresh evidence can be presented.

A list of those major corporations and email addresses are below. Fire-off an email. Make a phone call. Pissing and moaning on Facebook is one thing. Taking action will make you feel so much better.

After all, you may save the live of an innocent woman.

• Comcast - corporate_communications@comcast.com • Pfizer - Jennifer.Kokell@pfizer.com • Eli Lilly & Company - macgregorj@lilly.com • Entergy - akulako@entergy.com • Atmos Energy - ghunter@atmosenergy.com • Electric Power Associations of Mississippi - callahan@epaofms.com • Centene Corporation - ir@centene.com • Health Management Associates - John C. Merriwether, 239-598-3131 Vice President of Financial Relations • Mississippi Health Care Association - vanessa@mshca.com • Mississippi Medical Association - ckanosky@msmaonline.com • The Mississippi Association of Educators - Terry Lynn Hamm, Government Relations; 601.354.4463 ext. 3012

It's unbelievable to me that The Mississippi Association of Educators gave him money. I supposed they, like the other companies listed above, were hedging their bets. All of the above give campaign cash to both Republicans and Democrats.

Also, share this information to anyone who cares.

I've done some work for you. Here are two places to follow the campaign contributors to Phil Bryant's run as Governor:

http://www.followthemoney.org/database/search.phtml?searchbox=phil+bryaNt

http://votesmart.org/candidate/campaign-finance/2126/phil-bryant#.UzFiVvldUyI

Fight and write for justice!

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mmasse 5 months, 3 weeks ago

What if we are wrong? Do no harm, doctor. And so why not wait?

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bubbat 5 months, 3 weeks ago

How can ya'll say she is "clearly" innocent? Just because her son, who is now recanting what he told under oath at the trial. So the word of an admitted liar is sufficient fro ya'll to say she is "clearly" innocent. Damn, ya'll are gullible.

I do agree there's sufficient cause for the execution to be delayed while some question answered, but there has been nothing said that would prove she wasn't involved in her husbands murder to say she is innocent.

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donnaladd 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Bubba, first, we did not say she is "clearly innocent." You carefully didn't quote what we actually said, which is that she is "clearly not guilty of the crime for which the state plans to execute her next week." And that is true: The prosecutor told a newspaper that the man she is convicted of hiring to kill her husband did. not. kill. him.

Now use your powers of deduction. Reasonable doubt ought to be whacking you between the eyes on that one.

We wouldn't declare that she is "innocent" because we don't know. Based on her trial and what the jury saw and didn't see, there is no way to know.

THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT. And state government workers should not kill her while we all try to figure it out.

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bubbat 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Ok Miss Semantics, change the clearly innocent to clearly not guilty in my comment. Still don't see how ya'll can say she "clearly" not guilty base on the her son's now recanting what he said at her trial. What's whacking me between the eyes is if admits he would lied on the witness stand, he would lie now to try and save her from being executed.

But like I said before the execution needs to be delayed until some questions can be answered.

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donnaladd 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Semantics are very important in the legal world, Bubba. Saying someone is "not guilty" of what they're accused of is very different from saying they were clearly innocent in the crime committed. VERY different.

And if you can't see the problem with the prosecutor saying the contracted killer didn't do it meaning that she is "not guilty" of the crime the prosecutor got her convicted for, I have a feeling that any more attempts to explain would be like talking to a post.

So I'll leave it there.

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theoriginalgingerkid 5 months, 2 weeks ago

You can't isolate an incident and not consider precursors of abuse.....man or woman. It seems the choices she was left with happen to be similar to those of other abused women. Obviously, she felt her options were limited down to killing him in order to end the abuse. She did not initiate conflict. Her actions were a RESPONSE to conflict.

Questions that run thorugh the heads of those abused: "Do I burn down the house while he's in it and asleep? Do I remain a hostage for the rest of my life? How do I live? If I run away, will he find me?"

So, to not factor that in is a deliberate distortion of truth. What does killing an abused person teach them? NOTHING. She stepped right up and took responsibility for her actions, despite the fact that she is mentally scarred. She had enough sense to do that much.

What does killing an abused person teach her family?

That regardless of our actions, this victim was never going to have the opportunity to defend herself in any respect and that we're the last people she should've turned to. If she were a man, I'd still have the same outlook.

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justjess 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks Ronni for this well thoughout article. It has brought out support for Ms. Byrom. She has lost 14 years of her life; however, her life could have ended forever had it not been for a team of judges who were able to call out poor legal representation laced with many errors.

You and the JFP make the difference. Always on the right side of a wrong issue.

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justjess 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks Ronni for this well thoughout article. It has brought out support for Ms. Byrom. She has lost 14 years of her life; however, her life could have ended forever had it not been for a team of judges who were able to call out poor legal representation laced with many errors.

You and the JFP make the difference. Always on the right side of a wrong issue.

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RonniMott 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks, Justjess.

As Donna stated above, we can't know--based on the evidence--whether Michelle Byrom masterminded a plot to kill her husband, and thus, I've never said she is innocent. But a major portion of the prosecutor's theory of the crime--that Joey Gillis shot Edward Sr.--was not correct, by his own admission (which he now denies, by the way). Certainly, the judge and the prosecution withheld evidence from the jury, and her lawyers were--to put it mildly--incompetent boobs. The case contains a wealth of evidence to produce reasonable doubt.

Imposing the death penalty and executing human beings demands a higher standard for our courts, as the Mississippi Supreme Court realized at Michelle Byrom's 11th hour. She now has an opportunity to receive a fair trial, something Mississippi has denied her for the past 14 years. It is the best outcome anyone could have asked for.

It should also push lawmakers across the country to reconsider the inherent unfairness of the death penalty and its high potential for putting innocents to death. We have no business executing people in our current criminal "justice" environment.

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