Two death row cases back before Miss. Supreme Court

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. - Two Mississippi death row inmates, including the only woman in the group, are back before the state Supreme Court this term seeking new trials.

The appeals of Michelle Byrom and Justin Underwood are among dozens the Supreme Court will decide based on written briefs submitted by attorneys.

Michelle Byrom is back before the court on a post-conviction petition. Inmates use the petitions to claim they have discovered new evidence that would justify a new trial.

The state Supreme Court upheld Byrom's conviction and death sentence in 2003. A Tishomingo County judge turned down her post-conviction petition last year.

Byrom was convicted in 2000 of killing her husband of 20 years and recruiting her son in the plot.

Edward Byrom Sr., an electrician, was shot to death June 4, 1999, with a World War II weapon that had belonged to his father.

In a rare move at her 2000 trial, Michelle Byrom asked Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner, instead of the jury, to decide whether she should serve life in prison or be put to death. Gardner sentenced her to death.

Prosecutors said Byrom killed her husband for money. Defense attorneys argued she had been physically abused as a child and by her husband.

Edward Byrom Jr. testified against his mother during the trial as part of a plea bargain arrangement. He later pleaded guilty to several charges in the murder-for-hire scheme, including conspiracy to commit murder. Gardner sentenced him to 50 years in prison with 20 years suspended.

In another case, Underwood was among dozens of death row inmates ordered in 1999 to be given court-appointed attorneys to handle post-conviction claims. The Supreme Court had upheld Underwood's death sentence in 1998.

Underwood was convicted in the killing of a Flora woman in 1994. The body of Virginia Ann Harris was found near a lake in Madison County.

Underwood was arrested in March on an unrelated burglary charge but confessed to killing the woman, according to court records. In a statement to law officers, Underwood also claimed that Harris had begged to be killed. He said he drove the woman to the lake, where he shot her.

Underwood had previously argued that he was mental incompetent and had not voluntarily confessed to the crime.

Other cases before the Supreme Court include:

_ Mississippi Export Railroad Co.'s appeal of a George County judge's ruling that it must reopen a crossing to the property of nursery business owner Mac Rouse.

Rouse, owner of Deep South Nursery in Agricola, sued in 2003, claiming his property had been landlocked since April 2003 when the crossing off Mississippi 613 was closed. He claimed he lost more than $100,000 in land and plants.

Mississippi Export is one of eight short line railroads in Mississippi. The Moss Point-based railway operates a 42-mile line from the Evanston community to Pascagoula. It connects the Canadian National Railroad to the CSX Transportation line.

Mississippi Export closed at least 15 crossings along Mississippi 613. Company officials said the crossings were closed in the interest of public safety.

_ Kimble Peter Smith's appeal of his 50-year sentence for molesting two girls.

Smith was convicted in 2003 in Pike County on charges of sexual battery and touching and handling a child for lustful purposes, also known as fondling.

He was arrested for a 2001 incident involving girls who were 11 and 15 years old at the time. He was sentenced to 30 years for sexual battery and 20 for fondling, to be served consecutively.

Smith was arrested after one of the girls told school officials about the incident.