Mississippi Supreme Court

Freed from death row, woman, 58, finds peace in forgiveness

june 29, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A woman freed after 16 years on Mississippi’s death row says God helped her come to peace with herself and the fact that until recently, her execution might come any time.

Michelle Byrom tells a local paper that she has forgiven her son and others she feels treated her wrongly. Her son, Edward Byrom Jr., testified against her but later allegedly confessed.

Byrom was convicted of getting her son to hire a hit man to kill her husband. The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a new trial in March.

She pleaded “no contest” Friday, asserting innocence but acknowledging prosecutors could probably convince a jury otherwise.

Byrom says that after the brief court hearing in Tishomingo County, she and her brother didn’t stop for lunch until they got to Tennessee.

Mississippi death row inmate Michelle Byrom to get new trial

April 1, 2014

(CNN) — A new trial has been ordered for Mississippi death row inmate Michelle Byrom, according to a state Supreme Court opinion issued Monday.

Byrom’s capital murder conviction was reversed, and the case has been remanded to the circuit court for a new trial, the opinion said.

“We are very grateful that the Mississippi Supreme Court has granted Michelle Byrom’s request for relief from her death sentence,” said Byrom’s attorney, David Calder. “This was a team effort on the part of the attorneys currently representing Michelle, and we believe that the court reached a just and fair result under the facts presented in this case.”

Byrom has been on death row since her 2000 conviction for capital murder. The 57-year-old woman was convicted of being the mastermind of a murder-for-hire plot to kill her allegedly abusive husband, a killing her son had admitted to committing in several jailhouse letters and, according to court documents, in an interview with a court-appointed psychologist.

He recanted when he was put on the stand, according to court records.

Attorney General Jim Hood, who had requested Byrom’s execution, said Monday his office would seek the court’s reasoning for the reversal.

“While we respect the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision, it is important that the trial court know and understand the specific errors that were found by the justices so that the lower court knows the best way to proceed,” he said. “Our citizens can once again take comfort in the fact that we have a legal system that works for all parties involved.”

The Supreme Court opinion noted that the decision “is extraordinary and extremely rare in the context of a petition for leave to pursue post-conviction relief.”

Oliver Diaz, the former presiding justice of the Supreme Court, called the opinion “actually kinda amazing,” from the order for a new trial to the ruling’s release on a Monday instead of a Thursday, as usual.

“The lawyers filed a last ditch motion for additional post conviction relief. These are almost never granted. Defendants are limited to a single post conviction motion,” he wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “It is extremely rare to grant and send back for a new trial.”

The court further instructed that a different judge should be assigned to Byrom’s new trial.

Circuit Judge Thomas J. Gardner, who imposed the death sentence on Byrom after her conviction, declined to comment to CNN, saying, “The matter is ongoing.”

Diaz also said the order for a new judge was extraordinary.

“Also, taking the step of removing the original trial judge is very unusual as well,” he wrote.

Tara Booth, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said the department expects an order Tuesday to transfer Byrom from the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility to Tishomingo County, where the killing occurred.

Hood, the attorney general, had requested that Byrom be executed “on or before (the date of) March 27,” but the Mississippi Supreme Court, which has the final say on execution dates, denied Hood’s request.

During Michelle Byrom’s original trial, prosecutors said she plotted to kill her husband, who was fatally shot in his home in Iuka, Mississippi, in 1999 while Michelle was in the hospital receiving treatment for double pneumonia. A jury convicted her based on evidence and testimony alleging that she was the mastermind of the plot.

Byrom Jr. admitted in jailhouse letters that he had committed the crime on his own after growing tired of his father’s physical and verbal abuse, and a court-appointed psychologist has said that Byrom Jr. told him a similar story.

On the stand, Byrom Jr. pinned the slaying on one of his friends, whom he said his mother had hired for $15,000.

Following her attorney’s advice, Michelle Byrom waived her right to a jury sentencing, allowing the judge to decide her fate. He sentenced her to death.

Prior to Monday’s ruling, Michelle Byrom’s defense attorneys had filed a motion asking the court for additional discovery so the alleged confession to the court-appointed psychologist could be fully explored.

The defense attorneys also want to depose the prosecutor from her trial, Arch Bullard, regarding his knowledge of Byrom Jr.’s alleged confession to the psychologist.

Bullard has told CNN that he firmly believes Michelle Byrom was the mastermind of the murder-for-hire plot.

Death row inmate Willie Manning granted DNA testing


Jul. 25, 2013


The Mississippi Supreme Court has given death row inmate Willie Jerome Manning the chance to argue before a judge for DNA and fingerprint testing that he alleges will show him innocent in the deaths of two college students.

The high court on Thursday gave Manning 60 days to file a brief in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, where he was convicted, to support his motion for DNA testing and fingerprint analysis.

The order reversed an earlier decision in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Manning’s request for DNA testing.

Manning argues that technological strides in the past two decades in DNA testing could lead to proof that he is innocent of killing two Mississippi State University students in 1992.

The Supreme Court had stopped Manning’s execution on May 7 so it could further review his arguments.

The bodies of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller were found in rural Oktibbeha County in December 1992. Manning, now 44, was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to death. Prosecutors said Manning was arrested after he tried to sell some items belonging to the victims.

Manning’s efforts to stop his execution were supported by the U.S. Justice Department. The department had said there were errors in FBI agents’ testimony about ballistics tests and hair analysis in the case.

The FBI said its microscopic analysis of evidence, particularly of hair samples found in the car of one of the victims, contained erroneous statements. The FBI also said there was incorrect testimony related to tests on bullets in the case.

The FBI has offered to conduct the DNA testing.

Manning’s lawyers said in filings with the Mississippi Supreme Court that the execution should be blocked based on the Justice Department’s disclosures and until further testing could be done.

The Mississippi attorney general’s office rebutted that testing wouldn’t exonerate Manning because the evidence is so overwhelming.

Also Thursday, the state Supreme Court denied Manning’s request for a hearing on the Justice Department’s filings on the reliability of expert testimony. It also denied Manning’s request to have his convictions set aside.

stay of executions january-august 2013

Stays of Execution 2013



Date of  Scheduled Execution  State  Inmate Reason for Stay
8 PA Mark Spotz Stayed to allow time for appeals.
16 OH Ronald Post Commuted to a sentence of life without parole.
29 TX Kimberly McCarthy Stayed until 4/SR3/2013 after attorneys raised claims of racial bias.
13 LA Christopher Sepulvado Stayed due to issues with lethal injection protocol in the state of Louisiana.
19 GA Warren Hill Stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to examine the issue of Hill’s mental retardation.
20 TX Britt Ripkowski Stayed by a district court which found the defendant legally incompetent.
21 GA Andrew Cook Stayed on lethal injection grounds by the Georgia Court of Appeals.  Update – Stay was lifted and Cook was executed as scheduled.
26 FL Augustus Howell Stayed to allow time for appeals.
27 TX Larry Swearingen Stayed to allow time for DNA testing.
5 PA Freeman May Stayed to allow time for appeals.
6 PA Orlando Maisonet Stayed to allow time for appeals.
6 AZ Edward Schad Stayed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow time for appeals.
7 PA Abraham Sanchez Stayed to allow time for appeals.
21 TX Michael Gonzales Stayed to allow time for appeals.
3 TX Kimberly McCarthy Stayed due to proposed legislation that would address racial discrimination in the death penalty.
10 TX Rigoberto Avila Stayed by 41st District Judge Anna Perez who ruled additional time is necessary to allow Avila’s defense attorneys to explore possible new evidence of Avila’s innocence.
21 PA Borgela Philistin Stayed to allow time for appeals.
24 TX Elroy Chester Stayed to allow time to clarify legal issues.
25 PA Michael Travaglia Stayed to allow time for appeals.
7 MS Willie Manning Stayed by Mississippi Supreme Court to allow further review of the case.
21 TX Robert Pruett 60-day stay to allow for DNA testing.
18-24 CO Nathan Dunlap Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order granting a temporary reprieve.


“Volunteer” refers to inmates who have voluntarily waived their normal appeals (not necessarily that they have volunteered for execution).



MISSISSIPI – Death penalty case before Miss. court – Jason Lee Keller

October 15, 2012 http://www.sunherald.com

MISS. — The Mississippi Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal Monday from death row inmate Jason Lee Keller, who wants a new trial in the 2007 robbery and shooting death of a woman in Harrison County.

Prosecutors say 41-year-old Hat Nguyen, a single mother of four, was killed at the convenience store she owned in Harrison County.

Court records show the Nguyen family lost their home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and lived in the back of the store.

Prosecutors say Keller, now 33, allegedly shot Nguyen shot four times. A shot to the back of her head was fatal.

Keller was convicted in Harrison County Circuit Court in 2009.

Court records show Keller told investigation that he was high on cocaine when the incident occurred.


MISSISSIPPI – Death row inmate back for 2nd appeal – Howard Dean Goodin

September 30, 2012 http://www.clarionledger.com

Howard Goodin

Death row inmate Howard Dean Goodin is headed back to the Mississippi Supreme Court for a second round of arguments on claims that he is mentally disabled and shouldn’t be executed.

Oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday in Jackson.

Goodin is appealing an adverse 2010 ruling from Newton County Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon, who found Goodin mentally competent and denied his motion for a new trial.

The Supreme Court granted Goodin a hearing in 2009 on claims of mental disability and ineffective work by his case lawyer.

Those post-conviction claims were initially dismissed by Gordon in 2007. In such claims, an inmate argues he has found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

Goodin was convicted of capital murder in 1999 in the death of a Union, Miss., shopkeeper.

What prompted the Supreme Court to order a mental disability hearing for Goodin was his claim that his former attorney failed to call for testimony any of the psychiatrists who had diagnosed Goodin as schizophrenic, and that the attorney failed to present records showing the diagnosis of schizophrenia to the trial court.

Goodin also claimed records attesting to his poor academic performance and inability to hold a job should have been introduced.

He claimed his due-process rights were violated because the trial judge ruled on the competency petition without evidence of schizophrenia and low intelligence being introduced.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2009 a hearing was necessary because Gordon, the trial judge, through no fault of this own, wasn’t presented with the evidence needed to decide the mental disability issue.

The legal work of Goodin’s former attorney, Robert Ryan, had been called into question before. Attorneys for Mississippi death row inmate Dale Leo Bishop claimed Ryan — former head of a state agency responsible for representing indigent death row inmates on appeal — suppressed evidence of a bipolar disorder and intentionally sabotaged the case.

Bishop was executed in 2008 after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up his final three appeals.

At Goodin’s trial, records show a surveillance tape played in court depicted Goodin entering Rigdon Enterprises in Union on Nov. 5, 1998. He is seen on the tape stealing money from the cash register as well as taking a VCR and videotape.

The tape also showed 64-year-old Willis Rigdon raising his hands as he was led at gunpoint from the store and forced into his pickup truck.

Rigdon was shot with a pistol after a short trip down a nearby dirt road. He was dumped in a ditch and died later at a hospital.

MISSISSIPPI – Gary Carl Simmons – Execution June 20 – Update EXECUTED 6:16 p.m

Last Statement

“I’ve been blessed to be loved by some good people, by some amazing people. I thank them for their support. Let’s get it on so these people can go home. That’s it,” Simmons said as he lay strapped on a gurney in the execution chamber moments before the procedure was carried out.

June 19, 2012 Source : http://www.clarionledger.com

Attorneys for a former butcher convicted of dismembering a man over a drug debt and raping a woman he locked in a metal box have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to stop Wednesday’s planned execution.

Gary Carl Simmons Jr. is scheduled to be executed Wednesday at 6 p.m. CDT for the 1996 killing of Jeffery Wolfe, whose body was found in pieces in a Jackson County bayou. Simmons also was convicted of kidnapping and raping Wolfe’s friend and sentenced to life on those charges.

Simmons lawyers said in a motion Tuesday that recent mental exams show he has long-term substance abuse problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and “mild executive-level brain dysfunction.” They also argue that his previous lawyers didn’t do a good job.

The attorney general’s office has argued in the past that Simmons’ sanity “is not in question.”

Simmons’ current attorneys say his trial lawyers didn’t explore mental health problems for sentencing purposes and the issue wasn’t properly raised by previous appeal lawyers.

The motion filed Tuesday said that until recently, Simmons “had never undergone a mental health evaluation for the purposes of developing mitigating evidence.”
Simmons’ previous appeals have been rejected by Mississippi courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the Mississippi Supreme Court set Simmons’ execution date on June 5, the justices also gave him permission to get two mental health exams. Simmons’ lawyers later asked for a two-week delay of the execution, saying more time was needed for the tests and to file appeals based on those results. The court declined that request in a 6-2 decision on June 14.

Court records say that Simmons planned the death and dismemberment of a drug dealer because he didn’t have the money to pay him for marijuana.

Wolfe and his female friend went to Simmons’ house in Jackson County on Aug. 12, 1996, to collect the debt estimated at up to $20,000. Timothy Milano, Wolfe’s former brother-in-law, shot Wolfe numerous times with a .22 caliber rifle inside Simmons’ home, according to court records.

read the full article : click here 

June 13, 2012 Source : http://www2.wkrg.com

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Mississippi attorney general’s office says a death row inmate’s recent request for mental health testing is meant only to delay his execution, scheduled for Tuesday.

Gary Carl Simmons‘ lawyers have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court stay his execution because they say more time is needed for two mental health evaluations and an appeal based on their results.

On June 5, the court set the execution date for Simmons, but granted his requests for evaluations by a forensic psychologist and a neuropsychologist.

The Mississippi attorney general’s office argued Wednesday the request for mental evaluations is a delay tactic and the court should rescind the order and deny a stay.

The 49-year-old was convicted of shooting and dismembering Jeffrey Wolfe in August 1996 in Pascagoula.

Mississippi Supreme Court sets execution date for Gary Carl Simmons Jr.- June 20

June 5, 2012 source : http://www.therepublic.com

JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Supreme Court set a June 20 execution date Tuesday for 49-year-old Gary Carl Simmons Jr.

The court set the date and granted Simmons’ request for in-person contact visits with a forensic psychologist and a neuropsychologist for the purpose of conducting mental health evaluations. His attorneys had argued that the mental evaluation was necessary because Simmons may have post-traumatic stress disorder or other illnesses and had suffered from abuse as a child.

Simmons was convicted for shooting and dismembering Jeffrey Wolfe, who was killed in August 1996 after going to Simmons’ Pascagoula home to collect on a drug debt.

Timothy Milano, Simmons’ co-defendant and the person authorities said shot Wolfe, was convicted on the same charges and sentenced to life in prison.

Simmons worked as a grocery store butcher when he and Milano were charged with killing Wolfe. Police said the pair kidnapped Wolfe and his female friend and later assaulted the woman and locked her in a box. Police later found parts of Wolfe’s dismembered body at Simmons’ house, in the yard and in a nearby bayou.

Simmons also argued his original lawyers were ineffective at trial and that he never later had lawyers good enough to point out shortcomings.

In addition, he argued his legal cause suffered in part because of ineffective assistance by Bob Ryan, formerly head of the state office meant to handle post-conviction appeals for people sentenced to death.

The state’s high court, however, denied Simmons’ request to challenge the performance of prior post-conviction counsel.

MISSISSIPPI – UPDATE – Mississippi Supreme Court refuses Brawner reprieve

June 12, 2012 Source : http://www.commercialappeal.com

JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court has denied a request to stay today’s execution of a Southaven man convicted of killing his 3-year-old daughter, his former wife and her parents.

The court’s decision on Monday capped a round of legal briefs filed in the case of 34-year-old Jan Michael Brawner, who is scheduled to die by injection at 6 tonight.

Brawner’s lawyer said he would file a petition this morning with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brawner was sentenced to death for the April 25, 2001, shooting deaths of his daughter, Paige; his former wife, Barbara Craft; and her parents, Carl and Jane Craft. Brawner killed them in their Tate County home, stole about $300 and used his former mother-in-law’s wedding ring to propose to his girlfriend the same day, according to court records.

Brawner admitted to the killings. During the sentencing phase of his trial, he declined to have anyone testify on his behalf with mitigating testimony, which could have been used to sway jurors to spare his life.

“As far as life, I don’t feel that I deserve to live,” Brawner testified at the time.

Subsequent lawyers have argued that Brawner’s trial attorney did a poor job by not calling such mitigating witnesses as his mother and a psychiatrist, who could have testified about things that had happened to him in life.

Brawner’s lawyer, David Calder, had argued earlier Monday in a court filing that his client could be the first person executed in the U.S. on a tie vote of judges. The Mississippi Supreme Court voted 4-4 last week to deny a rehearing in the case. Justice Ann Lamar didn’t vote. She was district attorney in Tate County when the slayings occurred. By the time of the trial in April 2002, she was a Circuit Court judge, though she didn’t preside over the trial.

In court procedures, a tie vote usually means an earlier ruling stands.

Calder asked the justices to suspend court rules that prohibit people from asking a second time for a rehearing and to issue a stay of execution.

The court voted 4-3 against the motion to suspend the rules and against a stay of execution. Lamar and Chief Justice Bill Waller didn’t vote this time. A court spokeswoman said Waller was unable to attend Monday’s conference of justices. Waller voted to deny the rehearing last time.

Brawner went to his former in-laws’ home after learning his former wife planned to stop him from seeing their child. He gave conflicting statements to police and during testimony, saying at times he wanted to borrow money and at other times that he was going to rob his father-in-law.

Court records said he was waiting at the Crafts’ home when his former wife arrived with her mother and the child. After becoming agitated, he went to his car and got a rifle he had stolen from the house earlier in the day. He shot the former mother-in-law first, then his ex-wife. His daughter, Paige, watched the killings, court records said.

“After Brawner determined that Paige would be able to identify him, and in his words, he ‘was just bent on killing,’ he went back into the bedroom and shot his daughter twice, killing her,” court records say. He shot and killed Carl Craft when he got home from work and stole his wallet and the ring.

June 6, 2012 Source : http://www.clarionledger.com

A death row inmate is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to stay his execution scheduled for next Tuesday and grant him a new hearing.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in a 4-4 earlier this week not to allow a rehearing on previous arguments in the case of Jan Michael Brawner. Justice Ann Lamar didn’t participate.

In court procedures, a tie vote usually means an earlier ruling stands. However, Brawner’s lawyers argue there’s precedent in Mississippi that says a tie vote in death penalty cases should favor the condemned inmate.

Brawner claims his previous appeals lawyer didn’t do a good job and he wants an oral hearing on the matter.

Brawner, now 34, was convicted of the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, ex-wife and former father-in-law and mother-in-law Tate County.


June 6, 2012 Source : http://www.fox40tv.com

JACKSON, Miss.  – The Mississippi Supreme Court won’t reconsider an appeal from an inmate scheduled for execution June 12.

Jan Michael Brawner argued his legal case suffered because of ineffective assistance by Bob Ryan, former head of the state office meant to handle post-conviction appeals for people sentenced to death.

Brawner, now 34, was convicted of the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, ex-wife and former father-in-law and mother-in-law the Tate County community of Sarah.

According to trial testimony, Brawner went to his former in-laws’ home after learning his former wife planned to stop him from seeing their child; he also had no money and contemplated robbing his former in-laws. Brawner admitted to the killings at trial and told a prosecutor he deserved death.

Justices ruled 4-4 Tuesday not to reconsider Brawner’s appeal.

Three death row inmates ask Mississippi Supreme Court to stop June executions

May 21, 2012 Source : http://blog.gulflive.com

JACKSON, Mississippi — Three men have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to stop them from being executed in June.

State Attorney General Jim Hood asked earlier this month that justices set execution dates for Henry Curtis Jackson Jr., Gary Carl Simmons Jr. and Jan Michael Brawner on June 12, 13 and 14, respectively.

Lawyers for Simmons and Brawner told the state court, in briefs filed Monday, that they should get fresh shots at proving earlier lawyers hadn’t done enough to pass legal muster. Jackson’s lawyer said Monday that he needs more time to prepare a petition asking to Gov. Phil Bryant to spare Jackson’s life.

Hood’s office replied that Brawner’s arguments all have been previously rejected, and that he shouldn’t be allowed to restate them. Hood hasn’t yet replied to Simmons and Jackson.