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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

An Innocent Woman? Michelle Byrom vs. Mississippi

Michelle Byrom
Michelle Byrom is scheduled to be executed in Mississippi on March 27 for conspiring to murder her husband, Edward Byrom, Sr. 

Her son, Edward Byrom, Jr., known as Junior, confessed to the crime on multiple occasions, and wrote that he lied when he told police his mother and a friend were involved. "I was so scared, confused, and high, I just started spitting the first thought out, which turned in to this big conspiracy thing, for money, which was all BS, that's why I had so many different stories," he wrote. 

Junior testified against his mother in exchange for a reduced sentence and is now out of prison. 

Michelle Byrom was abused by her stepfather, ran away from home at age 15, and moved in with Edward, Sr., that same year, when he was 31. He verbally and physically abused her and threatened violence if she tried to leave. 

A forensic psychiatrist diagnosed Michelle with borderline personality disorder, depression, alcoholism, and Münchausen syndrome, saying the disorders were consistent with abuse. 

She was interrogated while in the hospital under the influence of 12 different medications, and only confessed when the Sheriff told her about her son's confession and encouraged her not to let her son "take the rap." 

Her trial attorneys, trying their first capital case, waived her right to have a jury decide her sentence, believing that would give them grounds for an appeal. They did not present evidence of her mental illnesses, thinking that evidence would be better saved for the appeal. 

The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld her conviction and sentence (5-3), with Justice Jess Dickinson writing in dissent, "I have attempted to conjure up in my imagination a more egregious case of ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of a capital case. I cannot." 

A new appeal, centered on Junior's confession, which was never presented to the jury, is now before the state Supreme Court. The "friend," Joey Gillis, whom Michelle allegedly paid to do the killing, pled guilty to conspiracy to murder and was released from prison in 2009. 

If Byrom is executed, she will be the first woman executed in Mississippi in 70 years.

Read more: "An Innocent Woman? Michelle Byrom vs. Mississippi," Jackson Free Press, March 19, 2014

Source: Death Penalty Information Center, March 19, 2014

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