Byrom v. State, 2001-DP-00529-SCT.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation863 So.2d 836
Docket NumberNo. 2001-DP-00529-SCT.,2001-DP-00529-SCT.
PartiesMichelle BYROM v. STATE of Mississippi.
Decision Date16 October 2003

Terry Lynn Wood, Corinth, attorney for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by Judy T. Martin, Marvin L. White, Jr., attorneys for appellee.


CARLSON, Justice, for the Court.

s 1. On October 21, 1999, Michelle Byrom (Byrom) was indicted for the capital murder of her husband, Edward Byrom, Sr. (Byrom, Sr.). A jury trial commenced on November 13, 2000, before the Circuit Court of Tishomingo County, the Honorable Thomas J. Gardner, III, presiding. On November 17, 2000, the jury found Byrom guilty of capital murder. Following the verdict, Byrom petitioned the court for a sentencing hearing before the judge, without a jury. After granting the petition, the trial court conducted a sentencing hearing and at the conclusion thereof, sentenced Byrom to death by lethal injection. After Byrom's motions for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or in the alternative, a new trial were denied, Byrom timely filed a notice of appeal before this Court. The execution of the death sentence was stayed pending appeal.


s 2. In late May and early June 1999, Byrom began looking for someone to kill her husband. After attempting to hire at least one other person, Byrom contracted with Joey Gillis (Gillis) to kill Byrom, Sr. Byrom and Gillis negotiated a price of $15,000, which was to be paid from the victim's life insurance proceeds. The Byroms' son, Edward Byrom, Jr. (Junior), who assisted his mother in finding a killer, was aware that Gillis had been hired to kill his father. Gillis attempted to kill Byrom, Sr. on two separate occasions prior to the murder. Both attempts went unnoticed by Byrom, Sr.

s 3. Byrom suffers from Munchausen Syndrome1 and had been intentionally ingesting rat poison for at least three years prior to the death of her husband. On the morning of June 4, 1999, Byrom visited her physician, Dr. Ben Kitchens, who informed her that she had pneumonia and needed to go to the hospital.2 Byrom, Sr. took off work and drove Byrom to the hospital. He stayed at the hospital with Byrom for awhile, then left, promising to return after lunch. Byrom, Sr. went home, told Junior what room his mother was in, and then went into his private room to watch television. A few hours later, Byrom, Sr. was shot to death with his World War II relic Luger 9-millimeter pistol. There was no allegation or evidence of forced entry.

s 4. According to Junior's and Gillis's statements, sometime after Byrom, Sr. informed Junior about his mother, Junior, accompanied by Gillis, left his house. Junior dropped Gillis off near a wooded area that led to a field beyond the Byrom home. Gillis was wearing a glove on his right hand and carrying the 9-millimeter pistol. Thirty minutes later, Junior picked Gillis up at the same location. Junior asked Gillis if his father had been killed, and Gillis said yes. When Junior asked if Gillis was the one who killed his father, Gillis indicated that he did not do it.3 Junior and Gillis disposed of the glove and shirt that Gillis was wearing and hid the pistol. Junior took Gillis home, then traveled to the hospital and told Byrom that "it was done." Byrom told Junior to return home to make sure Byrom, Sr. was dead and to get him help if he was suffering. Junior went home and found his father dead. He then called 911 to report the murder.

s 5. Upon arriving at the Byrom home, the Tishomingo County Sheriff Department personnel became suspicious of Junior. He had cuts on his knuckles, which he claimed to have received after he struck an interior door in anguish upon discovering Byrom, Sr.'s body. He also had blood on the back of his pants near his belt line and on the leg.4 Junior was taken into custody to await questioning. He later confessed, implicating himself, Byrom, and Gillis in the murder.

s 6. Through Junior's confession, law enforcement determined that Gillis had been in the company of Junior that day at the Byrom home. Gillis was located and taken into custody for questioning. He later confessed to his involvement in the murder as well as that of Byrom and Junior. However, he maintained that someone else had actually killed Byrom, Sr.

s 7. Rick Marlar, an investigator with the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) of the Mississippi Highway Patrol (MHP), went to the hospital and conducted the first of five interviews with Byrom. She did not incriminate herself during this interview. Later that same night, Tishomingo County Sheriff David Smith went to the hospital and interviewed Byrom a second time. After being informed that Junior had "told everything," Byrom confessed, implicating herself, Junior, and Gillis in the murder. This and a subsequent statement were suppressed because of defective Miranda warnings. However, Byrom later gave two additional statements during which she revealed substantially the same incriminating information.

s 8. As part of a plea agreement, Junior pled guilty to conspiracy to commit capital murder, accessory before the fact to grand larceny, and accessory before the fact to burglary with intent to commit assault. He also testified against his mother. Gillis, the alleged "trigger-man" whom Byrom purportedly promised to pay for the murder of her husband, pled guilty to accessory after the fact to capital murder and conspiracy to commit capital murder.


s 9. The standard for this Court's review of an appeal from a capital murder conviction and death sentence is abundantly clear. On appeal to this Court, convictions upon indictments for capital murder and sentences of death must be subjected to "heightened scrutiny." Balfour v. State, 598 So.2d 731, 739 (Miss.1992) (citing Smith v. State, 499 So.2d 750, 756 (Miss.1986); West v. State, 485 So.2d 681, 685 (Miss.1985)). Under this method of review, all doubts are to be resolved in favor of the accused because "what may be harmless error in a case with less at stake becomes reversible error when the penalty is death." Id. (quoting Irving v. State, 361 So.2d 1360, 1363 (Miss.1978)). See also Fisher v. State, 481 So.2d 203, 211 (Miss. 1985)

. However, we take this opportunity to clarify here our position regarding the cumulative effect of error, especially upon appellate review of a case (such as the one today) which results in a conviction of capital murder and imposition of the death penalty.

s 10. In McFee v. State, 511 So.2d 130, 136 (Miss.1987) (rape conviction and life sentence affirmed), this Court, in individually addressing each assignment of error, found no error (harmless or otherwise) by the trial court. In so finding, we stated:

In sum, McFee contends that the cumulative effect of the alleged errors was sufficient to prejudice the jury, essentially allowing the State to convict him not of rape, but of murder. Yet, as discussed, neither the introduction of the photographs nor the prosecutor's comments constituted reversible error. As there was no reversible error in any part, so there is no reversible error to the whole.


s 11. On the other hand, in Jenkins v. State, 607 So.2d 1171, 1183-84 (Miss.1992) (capital murder conviction and death sentence reversed and remanded), in which this Court found both harmless error and reversible error by the trial court, we stated:

If reversal were not mandated by the State's discovery violations, we would reverse this matter based upon the accumulated errors of the prosecution.
This Court has often ruled that errors in the lower court that do not require reversal standing alone may nonetheless taken cumulatively require reversal.

Id. (citing Griffin v. State, 557 So.2d 542, 552-53 (Miss.1990)).

s 12. In Manning v. State, 726 So.2d 1152, 1198 (Miss.1998) (capital murder convictions and death sentence affirmed), after addressing 21 assignments of error with sub-parts, and after making numerous findings of no "reversible error," we stated:
This Court has held that individual errors, not reversible in themselves, may combine with other errors to make up reversible error. Hansen v. State, 592 So.2d 114, 142 (Miss.1991);[5] Griffin v. State, 557 So.2d 542, 553 (Miss.1990). The question under these and other cases is whether the cumulative effect of all errors committed during the trial deprived the defendant of a fundamentally fair and impartial trial. Where there is "no reversible error in any part,... there is no reversible error to the whole." McFee v. State, 511 So.2d 130, 136 (Miss.1987).
We find that there is no cumulative error in this case warranting reversal.

726 So.2d at 1198.

s 13. What we wish to clarify here today is that upon appellate review of cases in which we find harmless error or any error which is not specifically found to be reversible in and of itself, we shall have the discretion to determine, on a case-by-case basis, as to whether such error or errors, although not reversible when standing alone, may when considered cumulatively require reversal because of the resulting cumulative prejudicial effect. That having been said, for the reasons herein stated, we find that errors as may appear in the record before us in today's case, are individually harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and when taken cumulatively, the effect of all errors committed during the trial did not deprive Michelle Byrom of a fundamentally fair and impartial trial. We thus affirm Byrom's conviction and sentence.


s 14. During a pretrial hearing on October 18, 2000, the trial judge ordered the defense to disclose to the State the reports of Dr. Criss Lott, a court-appointed psychologist, and Dr. Keith Caruso, a psychiatrist hired by Byrom after the trial court granted her request for a...

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