Mississippi Should Think Twice Before Executing Michelle Byrom

Michelle Byrom, 57, could be executed later this month for a crime she did not commit. She was charged with hiring her son’s friend to kill her abusive husband. It is clear now that her son killed his abusive father. Her son confessed in letters to her and to a court-appointed psychologist that he committed the crime. Byrom’s son is free on parole, and the man she supposedly hired is free. Even though Michelle did not hire anyone to kill her abusive husband, the State wants to execute her at the end of March and make her the first woman executed in Mississippi since 1944.

Michelle Byrom’s execution will be a miscarriage of justice.

Edward Byrom Sr. was shot in his home, with his own gun. Michelle was in the hospital with double pneumonia at the time of the murder. Even though Michelle was heavily medicated and in the hospital, the police pressured her to confess to the murder to save her son from “taking the rap.” The pressure continued on this mentally ill woman until she confessed and added details about the supposed murder-for-hire.

At trial, Michelle’s son, Edward Jr., told the jury that at Michelle’s request, his friend, Joey Gillis murdered Edward Byrom Sr., and his own role was limited to procuring the murder weapon and disposing of it after the fact. In exchange for this testimony, the prosecution allowed Edward Jr. to plea to lesser charges and to avoid the death penalty.

The jury did not hear that Edward Jr. had twice confessed that he actually murdered his father and there was no murder-for-hire. During the investigation Edward, Jr. confessed that he murdered his father to the state-appointed forensic psychologist. Corroborating evidence convinced the psychologist the confession was genuine. The psychologist told the trial judge what he had learned and asked for instructions. The judge allowed the trial to proceed without disclosing this exculpatory evidence to Michelle’s lawyers, and then sentenced Michelle to death. Junior’s confession to the psychologist was never given to Michelle’s defense attorneys nor presented to the jury. Junior also wrote two letters to his mother before the trial, describing how he felt about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and describing in detail exactly how and why he—not Gillis—killed his father.

Because defense counsel failed to disclose these letters to the prosecution prior to trial, the judge did not allow the jury to see Junior’s letters to his mother. Michelle paid the price for a mistake made by her lawyers. The physical evidence corroborates Edward, Jr. confession. Edward, Jr. was found with gunpowder residue on his hands; Gillis was not. As a result of Edward Jr.’s confession to the psychologist, the prosecutor dropped the capital murder charges against Gillis, and allowed him to plea to the much lesser charge of accessory. Thus, Gillis, the supposed “hit man,” has since been released from prison.

Edward, Jr. is out on parole after serving a reduced sentence in return for giving false testimony against his mother.

Michelle suffered extreme physical, sexual and emotional abuse as a child and at the hands of her alcoholic husband—mitigating evidence that was never presented at trial.

Michelle’s step-father sexually abused her then forced her to work as a prostitute until she ran away at age 15. With no skills or education, she supported herself as a stripper. While still a teenager, Michelle moved in with Edward Byrom, a man nearly twice her age. They had one child, a son, Edward Byrom Jr.

Michelle suffered years of brutal and humiliating physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, Edward Byrom Sr. Michelle was never able to receive help because her husband threatened to kill her if she left.

As part of ongoing sexual abuse, Edward forced Michelle to have sex with other men while he videotaped. He made advances to Michelle’s friends, and sexually assaulted her mentally handicapped sister. Edward Byrom Sr. physically abused their son, Edward Byrom Jr., to force his compliance. Michelle became mentally ill and ingested rat poison as a way to be admitted to the hospital and escape the abuse.

Nonetheless, the prosecutors portrayed Michelle as a scheming, devious woman who had manipulated her son into helping her with a murder-for-hire scheme to get the life insurance. They insisted if she had really been abused, she could have simply just left her husband.

Michelle’s attorneys were trying their first capital case. They advised her that the trial had so many errors it would be overturned on appeal, and that she therefore did not need to invoke her right for a jury to hear mitigating evidence about her abuse before it decided her sentence. The trial judge, who had suppressed Junior’s confessions and allowed Michelle’s hideous abuse to be deprecated during the trial, sentenced Michelle to death.

Michelle Bryom was branded a scheming manipulative woman who could have just walked away from an entire lifetime of physical and sexual abuse. Now she is about to be executed, though we can be confident the son she was trying to protect actually committed the crime, and there never was any murder-for-hire.

Byrom’s attorneys filed motions before the Mississippi Supreme Court on February 24 to get a retrial and sued the Mississippi Department of Corrections on March 3 to obtain information about the drugs which are supposed to use for the lethal injection. She is still waiting the decisions.

Source: National Coalition to End the Death Penalty