Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Woman spent 15 YEARS on death row after being wrongly convicted of killing her abusive husband

A woman who was sentenced to death after she was wrongly convicted of killing her abusive husband has finally been set free after 15 years of incarceration, after the court re-examined her case and determined that there were some serious errors made during her trial.

Now 57, Michelle Byrom has spent more than a quarter of her life behind bars in Mississippi, awaiting her death for a crime she didn't commit. Even after her son confessed to murdering the man who abused him and his mother mercilessly, she continued to sit on death row.

Finally free again, Michelle recently spoke to Vanessa Golembewski at Refinery29 about what it was like to be imprisoned while innocent, condemning the judge who sentenced her and marveling at how much the world has changed since she was first locked up.

Michelle's marriage was a hard one. She met her former husband, Edward Byrom Sr. when she was 17 and he was 32, two years after leaving her Yonkers, New York, home and starting to work as a stripper.

Within five years they were married and had a son – but Edward had also started to become abusive. He beat her up regularly, once even making her ingest rat poison. She wasn't allowed to have money or be close to her family. He'd hit on any friends whom she invited over. He even forced her to have sex with other men and videotaped it.

'I don’t really know what else I could have done,' she said, explaining that whenever she tried to get away, he would find her and beat her more. 'Anywhere I would have went he would have found me, and he would have hurt anybody that tried to help me.'

In June of 1999, Edward Byrom Sr., then 58, was found murdered in his own bed.

At the time, Michelle, then 42, was in the hospital being treated for pneumonia. The local sheriff came to visit her there, telling her that they had plenty of evidence and she shouldn't leave her son, Edward Byron Jr., 'hanging out there to bite the bullet'.

On prescription drugs, she told the sheriff that she would 'take all the responsibility', hoping to protect her son. She confessed, making up a story on the spot about hiring one of her son's friends to do the deed. She was arrested at the hospital and brought directly to jail.

Michelle then got what could hardly be called a fair trial. She claims that she knew some of the members of the jury - including one who was in her Sunday school class - which should have disqualified them from serving.

No witnesses were called to testify in her defense. Important evidence was not even presented. And while her husband had abused her, prosecutors said that she could have just left him, rather than kill him - even though she maintained that she didn't actually do it.

In fact, by this time, her son had even confessed to the murder to a court-appointed psychiatrist. He pointed police to the murder weapon and tested positive for gunpowder residue on his hands. But none of that information was brought up in court.

In 2000, Michelle was convicted of capital murder by Judge Thomas Gardner, who sentenced her to death by lethal injection.

Michelle said that there were other abused women like her on death row at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility - including Rachel Moore, who shot her husband while he beat her. Rachel was sentenced by the same judge as Michelle.

'Judge Gardner has a big problem with domestic violence,' Michelle said. 'I think he has a problem with females, period. I don’t know if he’s married or not. If he is, I feel sorry for his wife.'

She went on to spend 15 years in prison awaiting her execution. During that time, many people on the outside were campaigning for her life to be spared - including former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz.

'Whoever represented her at trial did a horrible job,' he said. 'There’s no doubt that, had she had adequate representation [earlier], she would never have received the death penalty in this case.'

Then one day in March 2014, just hours before she was scheduled to die, a fellow death row inmate told Michelle that she was on the news because she was going to get a new trial. Everyone celebrated.

As it turned out, the Mississippi Supreme Court had acknowledged that Michelle's defense had been incompetent. They also looked at new evidence that hadn't been admitted the first time around.

Instead of going through another trial, though, Michelle agreed to plead 'no contest' and leave prison sooner, with a felony on her record. So, on June 26, she walked out of prison a free woman.

From there, she moved in with her brother, Kenny, and his wife, Paula, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where she has her own room that she decorated with pictures and inspirational quotes.

Adjusting to life outside of prison after a decade and a half has had its surprises. Smart phones, text messaging, and Facebook are all new. There are far fewer video rental stores. There's also plenty of new music, including one of her personal new favorites, Meghan Trainor's All About that Bass.

But Michelle can't completely shake off her prison habits. She doesn't sleep much, and eats just once a day. She also keeps in touch with some of her old fellow inmates.

And she'll never get to live as she did before prison. She now has Lupus and is dependent on a wheelchair. As a felon, she'd have a hard time getting a job, even if she could physically work. She is, however, considering taking up motivational speaking for those dealing with domestic violance.

Michelle also can't expect any reparations, since she pled no contest. Even the judge - whom she implied unfairly sentenced abuse victims - is unlikely to see any repercussions, since Michelle has been told that filing a complaint would be a waste of her time.

'No judge is going to go against another judge,' she said. 'Who down South would go against a judge from the South?'

Original report here

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