Woman's death sentence upheld

BY JACK ELLIOTT JR.

The Associated Press

JACKSON – Michelle Byrom, the only woman in Mississippi sentenced to die, lost an appeal Thursday of her conviction for killing her husband and for recruiting her son in the plot.

Byrom had asked that her conviction be overturned because of errors made by the trial court. But the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in the Tishomingo County case that although the court did make some errors, they did not justify changing the verdict.

Edward Byrom Sr., an electrician, was shot June 4, 1999, with a World War II weapon that had belonged to his father.

In a rare move at her 2000 trial, Michelle Byrom asked Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner, instead of the jury, to decide whether she should serve life in prison or be put to death. Gardner sentenced her to death.

Prosecutors said Byrom killed her husband of 20 years for money, which defense attorneys argued she had been physically abused as a child and by her husband.

Edward Byrom Jr. testified against his mother during the trial as part of a plea-bargain arrangement. He later pleaded guilty to several charges in the murder-for-hire scheme, including conspiracy to commit murder. Gardner sentenced him to 50 years in prison with 20 years suspended.

Prosecutors claimed Michelle Byrom planned to pay a hit man $15,000 with proceeds from the estate, which were estimated at more than $350,000.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that none of the errors cited by Michelle Byrom justified overturning her death sentence.

However, Justice George C. Carlson, writing in the majority opinion for the court, said Michelle Byrom's trial was not error-free.

“However,” he wrote, “we have never held that a criminal defendant was entitled to a perfect trial, even with our heightened scrutiny in death penalty cases. A perfect trial is simply impossible.

“A defendant is entitled, however, to a constitutionally fair trial under our federal and state constitutions. We are satisfied that Michelle Byrom did receive a constitutionally fair trial.”

In a dissent, Chief Justice Ed Pittman Jr. and two other justices said there were errors that justified a new trial, including the trial judge's decision to exclude from evidence a pornographic home video and some jailhouse letters.

In her appeal, Michelle Byrom argued that her actions were motivated by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband. She has alleged that a large part of this abuse was sexual and wanted to introduce a home video depicting her being forced to engage in sexual acts.

Carlson said Michelle Byrom was given sufficient latitude to convey her theory of abuse to the jury.

“The jury did not need this home video to be convinced of Byrom, Sr.'s abusive and pornographic tendencies,” Carlson wrote.