Mississippi woman gets reprieve from scheduled execution

Michelle Byrom, 57, was granted a stay of execution on Thursday, the day she was to be executed by lethal injection.
CBS affiliate WCBI

JACKSON, Miss. - Michelle Byrom, a Mississippi woman scheduled to be executed Thursday was granted a brief reprieve, reports Reuters. She was to become the first female prisoner executed in Mississippi in 70 years.

Byrom, 57, was convicted in the fatal shooting of her husband Edward Byrom Sr. in a 1999 murder-for-hire plot. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood had filed a motion to set the woman's execution for Thursday but was denied by the state Supreme Court, reports Reuters.

Byrom's attorneys hope the court will approve their motion to seek permission to file additional appeals in the case, according to the news agency. They say they have evidence that Byrom's son was actually responsible for the murder.

"We are cautiously optimistic," defense attorney David Voisin, who is consulting with Byrom's legal team, told Reuters. "It appears they are looking deeply into the issues raised."

The news agency reports that Byrom claims to have suffered years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband. She says she was in the hospital suffering from pneumonia on the day Edward Byrom Sr. died. She was still hospitalized when she confessed to the crime, which she now says was just to protect her son.

According to Reuters, Edward Byrom Jr. testified against his mother in exchange for a lesser charge. Prosecutors argued his only role in the crime was to secure and dispose of the murder weapon and that his friend, Joey Gillis, was the man who pulled the trigger. Both men served time after pleading guilty and are now free.

"Michelle Byrom's case is really unusual. Someone else has confessed to [the murder] multiple times and that is specifically her son. And a lot of the questioning occurred while she was [very ill and on medication] in the hospital, specifically the incriminating statement," defense attorney Carrie Jourdan told CBS affiliate WCBI.

Prosecutors argued that the woman was responsible for the murder-for-hire scheme to collect insurance money, according to Reuters.

The defense claims to have letters that Edward Byrom Jr. wrote to his mother, confessing to the murder. However, Reuters reports that they were not allowed to present the letters during trial because they did not share them with the prosecution beforehand, said Voisin.

According to Reuters, one of the letters reads, in part: "I (Edward Byrom Jr.) walked about two steps in the door, and screamed, and shut my eyes, [and] when I heard him move, I started firing."

As her attorneys mull their options, a new execution date has yet to be set for Byrom.

Reuters reports that only 14 female inmates have been put to death in the United States since the practice was reinstated in 1976. Comparatively, about 1,400 men have been executed in that same span.