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.
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