Wednesday, April 2, 2014
If you were unsure last week whether Mississippi should immediately declare a moratorium on the death penalty, then now it's hard to deny the evidence.
On Monday, the Mississippi Supreme Court made a highly unusual move in Michelle Byrom's case: It completely reversed her capital-murder conviction for allegedly paying a man to murder her abusive husband, it ordered a new trial, and it pointedly said that the same judge could not preside over it.
Why? Presumably because the circuit judge in Tishomingo County would not allow several confessions to the murder by her son to go in front of the jury. He even told a psychologist he appointed to examine her and her son to not tell anyone that the son confessed to the murder.
That is bad enough, alongside so many questionable legal occurrences (or non-occurrences) in Byrom's case. And both judges and attorneys are human, and make mistakes and worse. But here's the real kicker—and the reason we must stop executions in our state—Byrom got within a week of the execution date that Attorney General Jim Hood had requested before the court overturned her whole conviction.
Meantime, Byrom has been on death row for a decade. After being sexually and physically abused by her husband. And while confessions existed that might exonerate her—confessions shielded from the jury by the circuit judge. Her status as a convicted killer raised very few questions along the way and over years, even with the extremely obvious questions around it. She might have died this week had media, led by Ronni Mott in the JFP on March 19 had not created a firestorm around the case. But it doesn't happen in every case.
The criminal-justice system is horribly, disgustingly broken. We know this already from three men on death row in Mississippi that DNA has already exonerated before state employees could kill them. Ask yourself: How many innocent people have already died in Mississippi? And might it happen to you or someone you love?
In 2011, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty because, as Gov. Pat Quinn rightfully noted, the system is "inherently flawed." Even years before, the state declared a moratorium on using the death penalty after Northwestern University journalism students investigated and proved that Anthony Porter, on Illinois death row for 17 years for a double murder, was not guilty. They proved that the state's only eye witness was "threatened, harassed, and intimidated" in a 17-hour police interrogation.
Bottom line: Police want to get their (wo)man, prosecutors want to win, and judges have their own agendas, often to get re-elected. We simply cannot trust this system to decide who should live or die.
Mississippi's death penalty must end. The people must demand it and right away.