Michelle Byrom will not be executed today, as was requested by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood because the state Supreme Court has not yet issued a decision on the request.

Michelle Byrom Will Not Be Executed Thursday

Byrom was scheduled to be the first female to be executed in the state of Mississippi since 1944, but the Mississippi Supreme Court has the final say in the matter of executions and it’s silence on the matter signifies that Byrom’s execution will not go forward as some feared.

Hood requested in February that Byrom be executed by lethal injection no later than Thursday, March 27, for the 1999 murder of her husband, Edward Byrom Sr. Byrom has been convicted of the crime, but the case is fraught with uncertainty and ambiguity.

Is Michelle Byrom Innocent?

One glaring uncertainty is her very culpability, as her son, Edward Byrom Jr., has confessed to killing his father four separate times, three times in letters written to his mother and once to a court-appointed psychologist.

However, Byrom’s attorneys, who were trying their first capital case, failed to enter the letters as evidence and were shut down when they attempted to bring them in during Byrom Jr.’s testimony at his mother’s trial. Byrom Jr. had since taken a plea deal in which he agreed to testify against his mother and receive a lighter sentence. On the stand, Byrom Jr. denied ever confessing to killing his father, suggesting that the letters were a foolish attempt at helping both mother and son walk free. Byrom Jr. is now out of prison, as is his alleged accomplice Joey Gillis, a friend of Byrom Jr.’s whose exact involvement remains unclear.

The prosecutors presented the theory that Byrom had hired Gillis to kill her abusive husband, promising him $15,000 of her husband’s $150,000 life insurance policy. At the time of the murder, police found no gunpowder residue on Gillis, but did find evidence of it on Byrom Jr.’s hands. Furthermore, Byrom was at the hospital at the time and heavily medicated. Four out of five of her interviews with police officers were conducted while she was being medicated. Finally, according to court documents, Byrom confessed to hiring Gillis to murder her husband only after police interrogators threatened Byrom with the culpability of her own son, reportedly asking if she was willing to let her son take the fall.

“No, he’s not going to. I wouldn’t let him… I will take all the responsibility. I’ll do it,” Byrom allegedly said.

It should be noted that, according to reports, Gillis never testified during Byrom’s trial and prosecutors involved in the case have not volunteered any explanation as to how Byrom can be executed for hiring Gillis to kill her husband, when Gillis was not, himself, the one who shot Byrom. Furthermore, many question why Byrom Jr.’s confessions were used to exonerate Gillis and get his charges of capital murder dropped yet weren’t seen as reason for an appeal in Byrom’s case.

After being found guilty, Byrom filed appeals, arguing that the inadequacy of her attorneys resulted in the absence of the letters from her son being introduced as evidence, which could have hindered her ability to be acquitted by the jury.

In 2006, the Mississippi Supreme Court decided against Byrom’s appeal in a 5-3 vote, but the opposition to the decision has been loud and constant, with many, even fellow justices, calling the ruling a blatant disregard for the law.

Women’s groups are also advocating heavily for Byrom, who, according to the defense, was abused her entire life, both as a child suffering at the hands of her stepfather and then as a wife suffering from the extreme violence of her husband. According to reports, the constant abuse has caused Byrom to suffer from mental illness and led her to self-harm. Byrom alleges that her husband would beat and rape her, even forcing her to have sex with other men while he recorded it. After Byrom Jr. was born, Byrom Sr. began beating his son as well, something Byrom Jr. describes in one of his confession letters to his mother.

Assistant District Attorney Arch Ballard who prosecuted the case against Byrom insists that all claims of abuse at the hands of Byrom Sr. were unfounded and is confident that she orchestrated the killing of her husband.

“Not only do I think that she was the mastermind or part of the conspiracy to have him killed, so did the jury, so have all the appellate courts in Mississippi, and throughout the federal system,” Ballard said.

This could be due to the fact that Byrom’s attorneys never called for Byron’s psychiatrist evaluation to be entered for consideration by the jury, nor was the psychiatrist hired to evaluate Byrom ever asked to testify by the defense.

Michelle Byrom presented a clinical picture that is entirely consistent with someone who endured extreme abuse as a child. If I had been called to testify at the penalty phase of Michelle Byrom’s trial, I would have offered the opinion that because of her depression, alcohol dependence, Munchausen syndrome, and Borderline Personality Disorder, she was inclined to harm herself and act in a self-defeating manner, so that she was psychologically unable to leave the abusive relationship with her husband,” wrote Dr. Keith Caruso.

A change.org petition has been started in an effort to send a message to Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi not to sanction her execution. The Mississippi Supreme Court has not announced when a decision regarding Byrom’s case can be expected.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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