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Michelle Byrom is an inmate confined to the Mississippi Department of Corrections who has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the otherwise final capital murder conviction and sentence of death imposed on her by the Circuit Court of Tishomingo County, Mississippi, for her involvement in the murder of her husband.

Facts and Procedural History

On June 4, 1999, Edward Byrom, Sr. (hereinafter “Edward”) was fatally shot four times in the chest with his own 9 millimeter pistol inside of his home in Iuka, Mississippi. Edward’s son, Edward Byrom, Jr. (hereinafter “Junior”) called 911 after he discovered Edward’s body slumped over a coffee table in a spare bedroom that the family used as an entertainment room. At the time Edward’s body was found, his wife, the Petitioner in this cause, was a patient in the Iuka Hospital. She had been admitted earlier in the day by her physician, Dr. Ben Kitchens, with a diagnosis of double pneumonia. Within hours of Edward’s death, Tishomingo County law enforcement officials had questioned Petitioner and Junior and obtained statements from them. The police learned that Petitioner had devised a scheme to hire one of Junior’s friends, Joey Gillis (hereinafter “Gillis”), to kill her husband in exchange for $15,000 to be paid out of Edward’s insurance proceeds. Petitioner, Junior, and Gillis were all arrested.

The events leading up to and immediately following Edward’s murder are contested, but all accounts appear to agree that the Byrom household was not one of tranquility.  Edward and Petitioner fought frequently, usually about money, and Junior would often intercede when the fights escalated. While Petitioner alleges that Edward was physically, sexually, and verbally abusive to her, not all of the fights in the home were between the parents. Fights often broke out between Junior and his dad, as well, over disputes about Junior’s drug use, his partying, and the fact that he was an unemployed high-school dropout. Junior estimates that the family would get into screaming and cursing arguments at least twice a week in the six months prior to Edward’s death, and that the fights were usually worse when alcohol was involved. Petitioner and Edward both drank whiskey regularly to the point of intoxication, and Junior threw frequent parties at the home that involved the consumption of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and prescription pills. Petitioner and Edward would often stay at a local motel when Junior threw a party. Junior’s friends spent a lot of time at his house aside from the weekend parties, however, and Petitioner frequently spent time with the teenagers. She admits that she occasionally purchased alcohol for them, and Junior states, though Petitioner denies it, that she sometimes smoked marijuana with him.

From the accounts of Petitioner and Junior, Edward generally preferred to detach himself from his family when he was home. They maintain that he often ate and slept in the entertainment room, which had been a sound studio at one time. There was shag carpet on the walls and black plastic covering the windows, which Petitioner maintains was for the purpose of allowing Edward to feed his addiction to pornography in private. Petitioner alleges that Edward forced her to view commercial pornography and engage in masturbatory acts while he videotaped her, in addition to forcing her to engage in sexual activities with women he brought home with him. She maintains that she was physically abused when she refused to submit to Edward’s demands, and that her fear that Edward would harm her or Junior kept her from leaving Edward.

It was after a graduation party that Junior threw at the Byrom home in May 1999 that Petitioner’s plan to have Edward killed began to form. Edward and Petitioner had been staying at a motel, but they returned home while the party was still ongoing. Junior and Petitioner allege that Edward became angry, yelled at everyone to leave, pushed Petitioner to the ground, and struck Junior and one of Junior’s friends. After Edward’s angry outburst, Petitioner alleges that she, Junior, and his friends began to joke about having Edward killed. Junior states that sometime shortly thereafter, Petitioner asked him if he could find someone who would murder Edward.

Junior testified that he approached his friend, Joey Gillis, about the murder approximately a week prior to Edward’s murder. Petitioner and Gillis agreed that he would find someone to murder Edward in exchange for $15,000, which would be paid after Petitioner collected the proceeds from Edward’s insurance. 2 Petitioner stated that the initial plan was for someone to hide in the woods across the street from the house and shoot Edward as he waited for his ride to work. Edward worked seven days a week, and on most days, he would wait to be picked up at the end of his driveway. According to Petitioner, attempts to carry out this plan failed on the Wednesday and Thursday before the murder. The first attempt failed because a neighbor was outside in his garden at the *874874 time. Another attempt failed when the Byroms’ dogs were let out of the house and began approaching Gillis, who was hiding in the woods. 3 On Friday, June 4, 1999, however, the plan was carried out.

2. Junior testified at trial that Gillis stated that he was not the triggerman, but no evidence implicating anyone other than Petitioner, Junior, and Gillis was presented at trial.
3. It is unknown whether Gillis was alone at the time.

Junior states that he got into an argument with his dad when he arrived home at approximately 1:30 a.m. on the morning of the murder, and that he went to sleep after the argument. ( See Def. Trial Ex. 70).4 Sometime later that morning, Petitioner went to see her physician, Dr. Kitchens, who told her that he was admitting her to the hospital to treat her for double pneumonia. Petitioner returned home to gather her things and tell Edward that she was being admitted to the hospital, and she estimates that she and Edward left for the hospital around 11:00 a.m. Junior testified that sometime after his mother and father left for the hospital, Gillis came into his bedroom and said that Petitioner wanted Edward murdered that day.

4. The trial record in this case consists of sixteen separately bound volumes, but they are not consecutively paged. The first nine volumes contain pleadings, orders, and various papers, and the Court refers to these as “SCP Vol. —, –––.” The actual trial record is made up of volumes ten through sixteen and is referenced as “Trial Tr. Vol. –––, ––––.” Otherwise, the Court notes that its use of “PCR Ex. –––” refers to exhibits filed in post-conviction relief; “Reply Ex. –––” refers to exhibits attached to Petitioner’s reply to the State’s Answer in these proceedings; and “State Trial Ex. –––” or “Def. Trial Ex. –––” refers to the exhibits introduced by either the State or defense at the capital murder trial.

Petitioner’s illness on the day of the murder is only one sickness in a medical history that demonstrates illnesses that are staggering in both quantity and scope. Petitioner has been hospitalized numerous times. One hospitalization followed a February 1997 suicide attempt. She has undergone numerous surgeries, several of which were exploratory, in addition to bilateral hip replacement and a hysterectomy. Many of her physical illnesses are thought to have been related to her diagnosis of Munchausen syndrome, which she manifests by deliberately producing or feigning symptoms in order to garner sympathy and attention.5 See Harold L. Kaplan & Benjamin J. Sadock, Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry 656 (8th ed. 1998). As part of the disorder, Petitioner chronically and intentionally ingested rat poison, and medical records report the suspicion that she was ingesting poison as early as 1989. Dr. Keith Caruso, a psychiatrist authorized to assist in defense of this case, opines that Petitioner developed the disorder, along with Borderline Personality Disorder, in order to seek hospital admission and escape the abusiveness in her home. (Reply Ex. 6, Ex. C at 8). Additionally, Petitioner suffers from recurrent depression, alcohol dependence, lupus, hypertension, fibromyalgia, and Factor X deficiency, which is an inherited bleeding disorder that requires her to receive periodic transfusions of frozen plasma. These illnesses required frequent trips to the hospital, and frequent bills resulted. The resulting expenses were another source of friction between Petitioner and Edward. They argued over medical bills on the morning of his murder.

According to her hospital admission records, Petitioner was admitted to the Iuka Hospital at approximately 10:50 a.m. on June 4, 1999. When she was first hospitalized, Petitioner was treated with IV fluids and was given her regular medications. Among these medications were Talwin, a painkiller; Flexeril, a muscle relaxant; Prilosec, for stomach ulcers/acid; Restoril, a sleep aid; Synthroid, a thyroid medication; Prednisone and Plaqueril, which were prescribed to treat lupus; and Zoloft, which treats depression. ( See, e.g., Pet. Ex. 9, Aff. of Dr. Anthony Verlangieri). 6 Sometime later that afternoon, Junior arrived at the hospital and told Petitioner that “it was done.” She stated she told him to go make sure that Edward was dead, and to call an ambulance if he was not. Junior returned home, stopping on the way to speak to friends who he invited home with him so that they could smoke marijuana. When they entered the house, Junior found his father dead and called 911. Subsequently, Petitioner was informed of her husband’s death. At 4:50 p.m., Dr. Kitchens ordered that Petitioner be given an injection of Librium, a benzodiazepine, which is used to control agitation normally associated with alcohol withdrawal , and that she be given an injection every four hours thereafter, or as needed…


For the reasons set forth above, Petitioner has not demonstrated that the denial of her State petition was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, nor has the denial been shown to have been based on an unreasonable determination of facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceedings. Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that:

1. All federal habeas corpus relief requested by Petitioner is DENIED, and the instant petition shall be DISMISSED with prejudice.