Mississippi, we have a problem.

The Michelle Byrom case is starting to raise serious questions in Mississippi. Although Michelle was eventually – and unusually – granted a new trial, she also came very close to being executed. Amazingly, her conviction was for hiring as a killer someone that the prosecutor said didn’t kill anybody. (See previous post on this website, Mississippi Executions: a Pattern of Callous Disregard?)

A Jackson Free Press editorial highlights the complacency that facilitated this ludicrous injustice. It describes Michelle’s steady progress towards execution:

“Nowhere along the way does this mess of a prosecution and sentencing capture much of anyone’s attention outside a handful of anti-death penalty folks. The Democratic attorney general of the state, Jim Hood, asks for a date for her execution, and there is no evidence that either he or the current GOP governor, Phil Bryant, gives a damn about whether she actually is innocent or not.”

The editorial concludes, “Mississippi, we have a problem.”

As the Jackson Free Press alerts the Mississippi public to the wider failings – corruption, even – within their system of law and order, the inequity of a recent decision in Willie Manning’s 1993 case is likely to go unnoticed. Last week the Mississippi Supreme Court denied Willie’s request for fair treatment; instead, it was lenient in authorizing the State’s late filing of a document. The unfairness lies in leniency having been constantly denied to Willie himself. For instance, in his 1992 case he was denied federal review because of a late filing years before, at a time when his appointed attorneys had effectively abandoned him and he lacked the means to provide alternative representation. This denial of federal review preceded his request last year for DNA and fingerprint testing.

The document that the State has filed over a month late is exceptionally long (leniency was also granted to the State in this respect, with the usual rules about document length being waived). Defense lawyers will now have to wade through this long document: it will take them time that could otherwise have been devoted to other cases.

The Jackson Free Press editorial is right to state that the evidence of injustice may well be buried too deep in the system for people to see it. It can be buried in a series of unscrutinized court decisions, often cloaked in legal language in lengthy documents, that prevent most people noticing. And meanwhile cases move on steadily towards execution. Just as Michelle Byrom’s did.

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