The woman who came very close to being the first woman executed in Mississippi since WWII was set free in the same courtroom she was sentenced to death. Michelle Byrom spent 16 years behind bars, 14 of them on death row for the murder of her husband, Edward Sr. in 1999. Byrom maintains her innocence, but agreed to a plea deal in order to avoid a retrial.  She pled no contest, which means she maintains her innocence but agrees that it is possible for prosecutors to convict her, in exchange for immediate release.  Her plea deal sentence was 20 years with 4 years suspended.In 2014, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed Byrom’s conviction and ordered a new trial, citing numerous issues with her case.  Byrom’s attorneys failed to present mitigating evidence at her sentencing.  Specifically the fact that she suffered great physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband.  For example, Edward Sr. had a “special dark room” where he forced his wife to have sex with other men.  But, with no mitigating evidence, she was sentenced to death.

And the jury should have been told that Byrom’s son confessed to the murder.  In her 2000 capital murder trial, and after her son had confessed, Junior testified that his mother hired a “hitman” Joey Gillis for between $10,000 and $15,000 to kill Edward Sr.  He said the money was to come from insurance benefits.

Junior initially told police that it was his mother who hired someone to murder his father, but later admitted in a letter he wrote his mother, “Mom I’m gonna tell you right now who killed Dad ’cause I’m sick and tired of all the lies. I did, and it wasn’t for money, it wasn’t for all the abuse…”  He also admitted to his psychiatrist that he invented the story.

Junior in exchange for his testimony against his mother pled guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to 30 years.  He was released in 2013 on supervision.

John White, one of Byrom’s attorneys said, “The outcome is appropriate, given the history of the case.”

Byrom also has been represented by Alison Steiner, capital defense counsel with the state Public Defender’s Office.  In her first appeal, her conviction was upheld 5 – 3.

At the time, Justice Jess Dickinson wrote, “I have attempted to conjure up in my imagination a more egregious case of ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of a capital case. I cannot.”

Months later, the defense learned of Junior’s confession.  The defense also learned that Junior had gunpowder on his hands following the murder and Gillis did not. Gillis did plead guilty as an accessory after the fact for helping Edward Jr. get rid of the gun.  He was released in 2009.  He maintains his innocence as far as being the shooter.

Byrom had exhausted her state and federal appeals when The Clarion-Ledger and innocence advocates pointed out that the jury never knew that Edward Jr. confessed to the murder of his father. The Clarion-Ledger questioned Junior by phone and he denied killing his father, but when asked about the statements made to the psychologist, he hung up.

Authorities continue to insist that Byrom was the “instigator”.  Junior’s confession letters tell a completely different story.

On the evening of June 3, 1999, Junior wrote that he grabbed a bottle of Jim Beam and headed to the docks, “I sat and watched the night, like a drunken sailor, and the time flew.  It was so beautiful. It really relaxed me a lot, so I sat and cried and drank…”  He said he returned home and his drunken father slapped him around and said he was “a f—ing mistake”.

The next day, Byrom was hospitalized for ingesting rat poison, something she had done before.

Later that day, Junior wrote that his father entered his bedroom and was “going off on me, calling me a bastard, no good, a mistake…”

“As I sat on my bed, tears of rage flowing, remembering my childhood, my anger building and building. I went to my car, got the 9mm (gun) and walked to his room…”  He said his father had went to sleep.

“I walked about two steps in the door…and shut my eyes.  When I heard him move, I started firing.”

Deputies found his father dead in the dark room where he liked to watch pornography.

Junior asked a deputy if his father, who had worked as an electrician for the Tennessee Valley Authority, had a heart attack.  And that is when Junior, admittedly, first made up the story of the hitman.

The sheriff drove to the hospital, where Byrom was being treated, and told her that they knew everything and that if she didn’t confess her son would go down for it.

“He didn’t know which person you had got,” the sheriff said.
“Hold on a minute,” Byrom replied. “I don’t know. …”
“Don’t leave him hanging out here to bite the big bullet,” the sheriff said.
“No, he’s not going to,” she replied. “I wouldn’t let him.”
“Well,” the sheriff said, “he’s fixing to.”
“Well, I will take all the responsibility. I’ll do it.”

  1. GB says:

    Reblogged this on Trial by Media and commented:
    Excellent write-up.


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