Women's Project

Michelle ByromMichelle Byrom Granted
New Trial

Last week we featured the story of Michelle Byrom, who was convicted and sentenced to death in Mississippi for allegedly hiring a hit man to murder her abusive ex-husband.  Michelle’s case has garnered public and media attention for weeks after Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood moved to set a March execution date, despite evidence of Michelle’s possible innocence.  According to court documents, both physical evidence and his own admissions suggest that Michelle’s son might actually have committed the murder.  While Attorney General Hood sought Michelle’s execution, her attorneys filed a petition for post-conviction relief. 

As reported by CNN, yesterday the Mississippi Supreme Court responded to that petition by reversing her murder conviction and ordering a new trial.  The Court further ordered that Michelle’s case be reassigned from Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Gardner, who presided over her first trial, to a different judge.  A copy of the state Supreme Court decision may be found here.  The Women’s Project will continue to watch Michelle’s case, and will post other updates as they become available on its Watch List page.

Sabrina Butler Porter

Death Row Exoneree Sabrina Butler Porter Fights to End Capital Punishment

Sabrina Butler Porter was convicted of murdering her infant son and sentenced to death in 1990.  At that time, Sabrina was the only female inmate on Mississippi’s death row.  Sabrina was acquitted on retrial in 1995, after neighbors offered evidence corroborating her account that her son’s injuries resulted from attempts to administer CPR, and the medical examiner belatedly attributed her son’s death to a kidney-related illness.  Sabrina published a book about her story, and currently works with Witness to Innocence, an organization dedicated to allowing death row survivors to speak out against the death penalty.  Last week, Sabrina visited the Kentucky Senate to advocate for pending legislation that would abolish the death penalty in that state.  Read about her experience in Kentucky here

The Center on Wrongful Convictions Women’s Project was pleased to host Sabrina as an attendee and panelist at its Conference on March 7, 2014.  For more information about her wrongful conviction and exoneration, see her story.   

Why Women's Cases Are Different

Innocent women accused of heinous crimes face extraordinary challenges. In many cases, they are suspected of harming their children or other loved ones.
As a result, when under investigation, they are coping with deep personal losses, rendering them especially vulnerable to high-pressure interrogation tactics that sometimes lead to false confessions or seemingly inculpatory statements.
When women—traditionally viewed as nurturers and protectors—are accused of murdering or sexually abusing children, they are particularly reviled by society, including, of course, by police, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and witnesses.
In cases in which no crime has occurred—such as those arising from accidental or natural deaths that are mistaken for homicides—convictions are likely to ensue. Because the evidence in such cases is often entirely circumstantial, identifying wrongful convictions is difficult and rectifying them is complicated.
*Statistics cited on this webpage are from the National Registry of Exonerations as of February 20, 2014.