By Jack Elliott Jr.
JACKSON – The Mississippi Supreme Court refused Thursday to set execution date for death row inmate Michelle Byrom, whose attorneys say they have discovered new evidence in her case.
Byrom was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2000 in Tishomingo County in the killing of her husband, Edward “Eddie” Byrom Sr., and for recruiting her son in the plot. Byrom Sr. was fatally shot on June 4, 1999, at the couple’s home in Iuka.
State Attorney General Jim Hood asked in February for the court to set Byrom’s execution for Thursday. The one-page order in the Byrom case was signed by Mississippi Justice Josiah D. Coleman and gave no explanation for the court’s decision.
Byrom would be the first woman put death by the state in 70 years.
Hood’s office also asked the court to order an execution on Friday for Charles Crawford, who was convicted in a rape-murder case. The court did not issue an order in the Crawford case. It is increasingly unlikely he will face execution Friday. Corrections officials say no preparations were being made at the Parchman state penitentiary.
Both inmates have sought the Supreme Court’s permission to file new appeals.
Prosecutors said Michelle Byrom killed her husband of 20 years for money, and that she planned to pay a hit man $15,000 with proceeds from the estate, estimated at more than $350,000.
In a rare move, she 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.
State and federal courts have denied Byrom’s arguments that she should not be put to death because she was sexually and physically abused by her husband.
In new arguments, her attorneys said they had evidence suggesting her son killed her husband and she never sought to hire a hit man as he told prosecutors.
Byrom’s attorneys argue Edward Byrom Jr. told a forensic psychologist during an evaluation that he had been physically and emotionally abused by his father and he shot his father for his own reasons. They said the statements were discussed with the trial judge but were never revealed to Michelle Byrom or her attorneys before her trial and the psychologist was not allowed to testify about them.
The attorney general’s office said Byrom was arguing that her attorney didn’t do a good job — an issue it said was addressed in past appeals and denied. The attorney general’s office said Byrom cannot argue issues that never came up at trial.
Mississippi has not executed a woman since Mildred Johnson, 23, was put to death May 19, 1944, by electric chair, for beating her landlord, a woman, to death. Two others were executed in 1922 and 1937.
Meanwhile, Crawford is arguing he has more constitutional issues to raise that might persuade a judge to give him a new trial.
Crawford was sentenced to death in 1994 for the murder and rape of Northeast Mississippi Community College student Kristy Ray in rural Tippah County. Crawford told authorities he did not remember the incident but later led them to the body buried in leaves in a wooded area.
State and federal courts have rejected Crawford’s arguments that he was denied his constitutional right to attorney during a mental examination in 1993.