In the days and hours before Willie Jerome Manning’s scheduled execution time last year, the Mississippi Supreme Court was denying him DNA testing and fingerprint comparison, despite there being only circumstantial evidence against him. The state was loud in its support of the court’s decision. It seemed they were both saying, ‘Let’s just kill Willie, anyway’.
This week two more executions are scheduled in Mississippi. One of the cases raises huge concerns (see below*). In an article in the Jackson Free Press, David Voisin (Willie’s lawyer and a consultant for other death penalty cases) is quoted as saying,
“The state doesn’t contest any of (the facts). They’re just trying to raise these technicalities to sweep this under the rug, and say, ‘Let’s just kill Michelle, anyway.'”
Is this just a coincidence? Or does it demonstrate a pattern of callous disregard about who gets executed in Mississppi? If so, it reflects very poorly on the integrity of the judicial system of the State of Mississippi.
We urge readers to sign and share the petition asking Mississippi’s Governor, Phil Bryant, to prevent a miscarriage of justice by halting the execution of Michelle Byrom. You can sign the petition here.
*Michelle Byrom is due to be executed on March 27 2014. The following points about her case appear in the Jackson Free Press:
- Michelle Byrom, a mentally ill and vulnerable woman, was pressurized by police into confessing that she ordered Joey Gillis to shoot her abusive husband, Edward Byrom Sr. Her son, Edward Jr, was also implicated in this apparent plot.
- Edward Jr testified in line with this at his mother Michelle’s trial, saying that Gillis was the killer and that Michelle had hired him. He gave this testimony in return for being given a reduced sentence himself.
- Edward Jr. later made a confession to the state-appointed forensic psychologist, stating that it was he that had murdered the abusive Edward Sr.
- The trial judge, Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner, was informed by this psychologist of Edward Jr’s confession of guilt; however, Judge Gardner allowed the trial to proceed without disclosing this exculpatory evidence to Michelle’s lawyers. Judge Gardner then sentenced Michelle to death.
- Edward Jr made at least three other written confessions that echoed his statement to the psychologist.
- The prosecutor later admitted that Gillis was not the killer.
- Edward, Jr. was found to have gunpowder residue on his hands; Gillis had none on his hands.
- Edward, Jr. led police to the murder weapon.
- Michelle’s inexperienced trial attorneys did not call witnesses who could have provided mitigating testimony, and did not ask for a jury trial at the penalty stage.
- In a dissent to a Mississippi Supreme Court decision, Justice Dickinson stated that he could not imagine ‘a more egregious case of ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of a capital case’.
- Justice Dickinson also stated that Judge Gardner should not have imposed the death penalty in this case, as he did not have the authority to do this.
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