Death Penalty

On Death Row for a Murder Her Son Admitted To, Michelle Byrom Will Finally Get a New Trial

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Mississippi Department of Corrections

After about a decade and a half in prison for a crime she may not have committed, Mississippi death row inmate Michelle Byrom, 56, will have another chance in court. On Monday, the Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously reversed Byrom's capital muder conviction and ordered a new trial with a new judge take place.

Byrom was convicted of murder in 2000 after her son, Edward Byrom Jr., testified in court that she'd hired a hit man to kill her husband (and his dad), Edward Sr. The judge, Thomas Gardner, sentenced Michelle to death. 

But ample mitigating evidence—including years of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of Edward Sr.—was never admitted into the courtroom. Neither was the repeated confessing from Edward Jr. to killing his father himself.

From the Jackson Free Press:

Edward Byrom Jr. confessed to murdering his father, Edward Byrom Sr., on June 4, 1999, in a letter to his mother … One of at least four known confessions—there are two additional letters and a statement to his court-appointed psychologist—it might have been evidence to convict "Junior" for murder.

Instead, Tishomingo County deputies arrested Junior as part of a murder-for-hire conspiracy. Junior's friend Joey Gillis was the shooter, they said, and his mother, Michelle Byrom, was the mastermind.

Junior led police to the murder weapon, though. And only Junior had gunpowder residue on his hands.

He made a deal. Junior testified against his mother in return for a reduced sentence.

Both Gillis and Junior were convicted as well, but only Michelle got the death penalty. Gillis was released from prison in 2009, Junior in 2013.

In February 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Michelle Byrom's case. The Mississippi attorney general, Jim Hood, requested a March 27 execution date.

In light of the high court's ruling, Hood told CNN that his office would seek the reasoning for the reversal "so that the lower court knows the best way to proceed." He added: "Our citizens can once again take comfort in the fact that we have a legal system that works for all parties involved." Well, if you overlook the fact that you very, very nearly executed a potentially innocent woman who's already been in jail for 14 years based on dubious testimony … sure. 

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  1. But she LOOKS like she could have committed murder.

    Although I guess maybe a decade plus in the pen while wrongfully convicted might do that to a girl…

  2. Kill her anyway, why take chances?

    1. With that attitude, perhaps you should also be killed, regardless of guilt or innocence, just to be on the safe side?

  3. Is this trend of not allowing the defense to present exculpatory evidence a relatively recent phenomenon?

    It seems pretty damn unconstitutional to prevent a defendant from saying whatever they want in their own defense.

    I know, FYTW.

    1. The trend is away from a justice based system and towards a procedural one. In the last 70 years or so the courts have decided that there really isn’t any such thing as objective truth. So therefore, the appellate courts don’t worry about factual innocence, since there isn’t anything as truth anyway. They look at procedures. Now, if the judge dind’t follow a procedure and wrongfully excluded evidence, they will give you a new trial. But if the exculpatory evidence came to light after you were convicted and therefore its exclusion at trial wasn’t do to a procedural mistake, well that is just too fucking bad, talk to the governor. We can’t determine the truth anyway and you got your procedural rights. Your claims of “factual innocence” make no sense when viewed in terms of procedure and are therefore not something to court can remedy.

      1. What drives the trend? The war on drugs? Not ever having to admit they were wrong?

        1. A couple of things. First there were a lot of big legal theorists in the mid 20th Century who embraced the idea of that the purpose of courts is to follow procedure rather than find the truth.

          The second thing is that the culture war in the 1970s over crime turned every elected official into “a get tough on crime” guy and effectively eliminated the executive as a check on the courts. The pardon and commutation power used to be used and was intended to be used to correct injustice. When the court for whatever reason gets it wrong and convicts an innocent person, the governor is supposed to step in and fix it. Indeed, the people who argued for courts to just worry about procedure rather than truth argued that finding the truth after the trial and fixing things was the governor’s job. Sounds good except that governor’s don’t do that anymore.

          Our justice system is totally out of whack. You get all of the procedural protections but virtually no protection from injustice. The courts can convict an innocent man or sentence an innocent man to an outrageous sentence given the crime and he has virtually no remedy for fixing it as long as the court followed the proper procedures.

          1. Short answer: It’s the “DA scores a win = justice” rule.

          2. The “procedure” for what is admissible in the state’s evidence is all fucked up as well, for that matter. Due process and judicial credibility given to police is in need of huge reform.

        2. The two justices on the current SCOTUS most hostile to substantive due process are Scalia and Thomas; in both cases it’s taking originalism to it’s ridiculous conclusion: nothing in the Constitution explicitly grants them the authority to overturn convictions because they think the jury was factually wrong; therefore they won’t do that.

          1. Nothing n the constitution explicitly gives them the authority to wear clothing either, yet they don’t let that stop them!

  4. This case case is scary. They have letters to her in jail where her step son admitted to the murder. Yet, the DA thought “hey a jury agreed with me” and wouldn’t reopen the case.

    1. Sociopathy has to be a prerequisite for being a DA.

  5. In a just world, for this and many other cases, Jim Hood would be strung up by his testicles and flayed alive.

  6. *But ample mitigating evidence?including years of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of Edward Sr.?was never admitted into the courtroom.*

    So it’s okay to maybe hire a hit man and maybe murder your husband? Oh, okay, got it. I thought for a minute I was on Reason.com instead of the NYT or MSNBC or NPR.

    1. No, but it can indicate she was driven crazy and therefore should be committed rather rhan jailed. Even if she’s sane, the evidence of abuse could lead to a lesser sentence.

  7. It’s a blind spot you’ll find in every court in the world. Trials are supposed to find and proclaim truth based on the facts. What many end up doing instead is creating and proclaiming fiction by spinning evidence. It’s why a good lawyer wins more often than a bad one, even with identical facts. If courts actually did consider all the evidence neutrally, lawyer quality would be irrelevant.

    But that’s where the blind spot comes in — having issued a proclamation, it is assumed by the system and all within it to be truth…whether it agrees with the facts in any way or not. Any argument that denies the court’s proclamation is received in much the same way as a denial of the roundness of the Earth or of the sky being blue…even if the argument contains only the absolute truth and the proclamation none.

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