TV series focuses on Iuka murder

By Patsy R. Brumfield

Daily Journal

IUKA – A family-focused crime series comes to Northeast Mississippi, seeking to shed light on a murder and the woman on Death Row blamed for it.

“Blood Relatives” starts work on interviews in the Iuka-Corinth area later this week to learn more about Michelle Byrom and the 1999 shooting death of her husband, Edward, at their Iuka home.

BYROM

BYROM

The Investigation Discovery Network series focuses on murders within families. The Byrom episode is due to air in spring 2014.

Series producers declined to speak more about the project without network approval, which they said could take a couple of days.

Byrom’s conviction has been in the appeal process since 2001.

The 57-year-old Byrom contends she was abused and deserves a new trial because her original lawyer failed to present what could have been mitigating evidence of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband, as well as her physical abuse as a child.

A national organization representing battered women filed a friend of the court brief in Byrom’s support.

In 2000, a Tishomingo County jury convicted Byrom in the June 4, 1999, shooting death of her husband, electrician Edward Byrom Sr.

Prosecutors claimed she planned to pay a hit man $15,000 with proceeds from a $150,000 life insurance policy, and that she checked herself into a hospital the day of the killing to provide herself with an alibi.

Her son, Edward “Junior,” confessed to helping her plot the murder and testified against her during the trial.

On death row

Judge Thomas Gardner sentenced her to death. She is one of two women and 50 inmates on Mississippi’s Death Row.

Her appeal, rejected by lower courts, is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Investigation Discovery or “ID” describes itself as “America’s leading investigation network and the fastest-growing network in television.” It says it looks for fact-based investigative content about culture, history and the human condition.

“Blood Relatives” first aired in June 2012 with six episodes. Its 2013 season included 19 episodes.

ID describes the series as “family whodunits.”

In Byrom’s case, she asked Judge Gardner, not her jury, to decide her sentence. Later she contended her lawyer should have put on witnesses during the sentencing phase about her alleged abuse.

When she appealed to the federal level, two courts said it appeared that Byrom’s lawyer made a strategic decision not to call witnesses and that she failed to show she’d been denied any constitutional rights for a new trial on those issues.

But in a friend of the court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women in Philadelphia, Pa., said her attorney’s actions were “a complete dereliction of the obligation” to represent her interests.

NCDBW said the lack of information on Byrom’s behalf gave prosecutors the opening to contend that she was a callous woman and a bad mother, who not only manipulated her son into killing his father but deceived psychological examiners into concluding that she was mentally ill.

Seeking interviews

“Blood Relatives” production staff will interview family, friends and others knowledgeable of the case. They likely will pursue Byrom’s claims that her husband was addicted to pornography and forced her into sexual acts, some of which he videotaped.

According to court documents, police became suspicious of Edward Byrom Jr. at the crime scene, and when they went to the hospital to interview Michelle Byrom, she began implicating herself, her son and his friend in a murder-for-hire plot.

However, in letters exchanged while both Byroms were incarcerated, Junior claimed he alone murdered his father and did so for purely personal reasons.

During the trial, Byrom’s attorney was admonished by the court for not producing the letters and other information he aimed to use against Junior on the witness stand, and then the judge ruled the letters could not be used. During cross-examination, though, counsel was able to read directly from the letters with Junior admitting to many of the facts.

Ultimately, Junior denied being his father’s lone killer.

In its opinion dated May 31, 2013, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Byrom could not claim she was denied her constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel because she had failed to claim it previously.

She insists the death penalty was too harsh a punishment, given the abuse she went through from her husband.

The appeals court also rejected other arguments made to support a new trial or to contest her eligibility for the death penalty.

Junior Byrom, now 34, was sentenced to 30 years for his part in the murder plot. Today, he is free on “earned release” supervised by Lee County.

It wasn’t immediately known what happened to Junior’s friend whom they involved in planning the crime.

patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com