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Michelle Byrom: The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered a new trial.

Update below

The Mississippi Supreme Court entered an order today that Michelle Byrom is to receive a new trial. They have also ordered that the trial be before a new judge, in an en banc order signed by Justice Coleman with no dissents.

This is extraordinary and unprecedented to my knowledge. The order says that considering the petition– which I am told raised innocence issues– “the petition is well taken and should be granted.” The entire conviction– not just the sentence– is vacated for a retrial.

This is after the case has been tried, on direct appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, on certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, on post conviction to the Mississippi Supreme Court, certiorari again, and then the federal district court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Next time someone says that a death sentence is fine because of all the judges who looked at it, remember Michelle Byrom.

The order notes that it is not only unprecedented, it won’t be precedent:

The relief afforded herein is extraordinary and extremely rare in the context of a petition to pursue post conviction relief, and we limit the relief we today grant to the facts of the above styled case.

This is an amazing result. Major congratulations to David Calder and other members of her current team for an extraordinary win.

Here’s the Order.

Update:

I’ve given a quick skim to Byrom’s “successor” petition (her second attempt at post-conviction relief). Here’s what happened, according to the petition:

The trial judge appointed Dr. Lott to do competency exams for Michelle, her son “Junior”, and a guy named Gillis. The prosecution theory was that, at Michelle’s behest, Junior hired Gillis to do the killing.

While Dr. Lott was interviewing Junior, he confessed. Dr. Lott did not put that in his report (which was given to the trial court and Junior’s counsel) but he did telephone the trial judge and tell him about the confession and ask what to do. The judge told Dr. Lott to keep it confidential.

Michelle was tried in November of 2000. Gillis plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact in March of 2001. Somewhere along the line, possibly after the trial, Lott disclosed Junior’s confession to Gillis’s lawyers, who used it to get an extraordinary deal for Gillis. It is not clear whether the prosecution knew about Junior’s confession pretrial, but is clear the court did.

It is the failure to disclose this confession at trial that has to be the central reason this petition was granted. It’s a little odd though– Michelle’s trial lawyers learned about it several months after the trial through hearsay (from Gillis’s lawyers) and a newspaper report of a statement by an assistant district attorney. So it was sort-of-known. However, Lott refused to cooperate with every attempt to obtain an affidavit of or evidence about the statement, and Michelle’s postconviction lawyers never got allowed discovery. What was not known that may have tipped the balance is that Lott had told the trial judge about the confession pre-trial.

Here is the Motion for Leave. I will post the exhibits, responses, and replies if there is interest.

 

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