Justice For Michelle Byrom

Michelle Byrom was set to be executed by the State of Mississippi on Thursday, March 27. In 1999, Michelle was convicted of conspiring to kill her abusive husband, despite the fact that her son confessed to the shooting. Byrom’s son now walks free. Until Monday, March 31, the State of Mississippi refused to even commute her sentence. On that day, the State Supreme Court reversed the capital murder conviction and ordered a new trial. This is a real victory for Byrom’s supporters and legal team. However, Byrom really should be freed and offered treatment for her mental illness.

Byrom’s case is just one more exposé of the sexism in our so-called justice system, and our society as a whole. She was coerced by police to falsely admit involvement in a conspiracy to murder her husband in order to save her son, who had confessed to the shooting. At trial, the prosecution wove a tale of the greedy, vengeful wife who conspired to profit off her husband’s life insurance policy, and invoked procedural rules to prevent the jury from seeing proof of her innocence: her son’s confession. Michelle was then sentenced to die by a judge who had personal knowledge of that confession.

Despite all of this – the police coercion, the ineffectiveness of her defense attorneys, the judge’s preclusion of exonerating evidence at trial and during sentencing – the Mississippi Courts refused to free Michelle Byrom.

She is a victim of an unjust court system. The State of Mississippi viciously pursued and prosecuted her, seeking the death penalty while simultaneously offering plea bargains and lesser sentences to her alleged co-conspirator and also her son, the confessed shooter. Those two men have been released from prison, but Michelle has remained imprisoned for 14 years and was scheduled to be put to death. The State of Mississippi was trying to execute her rather than acknowledge its sexist and unjust actions.

But Byrom also is a victim of an unjust society that allows a woman, mentally ill from suffering a lifetime of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, including at the hands of her husband, to be prosecuted at all, let alone sentenced to death. After keeping her son’s confession from the jury, the prosecutor closed his case by arguing, “Why didn't she just leave him? Why didn't she divorce him? Why didn't she seek sanctuary somewhere else?”

Byrom is a victim of a society where a jury can hear details of years of abuse suffered by a mother and her son and yet still be swayed by sexist arguments, a society where sexism is so pervasive that a judge believes strongly enough in the 'vengeful wife' theory that he sentences a woman to die despite knowing she is innocent, a society that would execute an innocent woman rather than admit that sexism.

WORD stands with all victims of this unjust system. The State of Mississippi should be providing treatment for Michelle Byrom’s mental illness, not leaving her on death row for 14 years before forcing her through a retrial.