Unless the courts or its governor steps in, a Mississippi woman will be executed for murder her son has repeatedly confessed to committing. Byrom would also be the first woman executed in the state since 1944.
Byrom was sentenced to death in 2000 in Tishomingo County in the killing of her husband, Edward "Eddie" Byrom Sr. The execution is currently set for Thursday, despite her son repeadedly confessing to the murder of Byrom, Sr. A jury never had the chance to hear his testimony, as they were never admitted into evidence.
“There’s no way justice was done in this case,” said former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., according to Think Progress. “If an execution is allowed to proceed, we all are complicit in it in Mississippi.”
Diaz Jr. became an anti-death penalty advocate after realizing that he voted to send an innocent man to death. In one of his final dissents before retirement, he wrote of Mississippi's death penalty policy:
[I]nnocent men can be, and have been, sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit. In 2008 alone, two men – both black – convicted of murders in Mississippi in the mid-1990s have been exonerated fully by a non-profit group that investigates such injustices. … Just as a cockroach scurrying across a kitchen floor at night invariably proves the presence of thousands unseen, these cases leave little room for doubt that innocent men, at unknown and terrible moments in our history, have gone unexonerated and been sent baselessly to their deaths.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi Department of Corrections and attorneys Byrom have agreed to dismiss a lawsuit over release of information on execution drugs and suppliers.
The decision to dismiss was made after the attorney general's office and the agency provided information sought about the drugs, attorneys for Byrom said in a statement.
Special Assistant Attorney General Paul Barnes said in court documents filed this week that the Corrections Department erred in not providing the information sought by Byrom and has now done so.
Byrom and her attorneys had asked Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary to hold the agency in violation of Mississippi's public records law for failing to provide information on whether the drugs are safe and reliable or whether they may have been tainted, expired, counterfeited or compromised in some way.
Barnes said the Corrections Department has now provided essentially everything requested except for the drugmaker's identity. Corrections officials had no immediate comment.
Vanessa Carroll, an attorney with the New Orleans office of the MacArthur Justice Center, said the center has determined the Corrections Department is buying the lethal injection drugs from a compounding pharmacy in the state and that the center has determined the identity of the pharmacy.
The Corrections Department has said it uses pentobarbital, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride in executions.
Carroll said in Thursday's news release that the Corrections Department's use of a compounding pharmacy raises concerns.
"We have no assurance that this compounded pentobarbital is sufficiently potent and effective. This is an enormous concern because pentobarbital is the first drug administered during a lethal injection, and if it fails to work properly, the prisoner will be suffocated to death by the paralytic agent that is given next, and may be conscious during the excruciating pain caused by the third drug, which causes death by cardiac arrest," said Carroll.
Compounding pharmacies make customized drugs not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration. It's hard to tell exactly how many states have used or are planning to use compounding pharmacies for execution drugs because states frequently resist disclosing the source of the drugs.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, six states have either used or announced an intention to use compounding pharmacies to obtain the drugs for lethal injection.
South Dakota carried out 2 executions in 2012 using drugs from compounders. Georgia obtained drugs from an unnamed compounding pharmacy for the planned execution of Warren Hill in 2013, but the execution was stayed. Pennsylvania obtained drugs from a compounder, but has not used them. Colorado sent out inquiries to compounding pharmacies for lethal injection drugs, but all executions are on hold. Missouri used pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy in the 2013 execution of Joseph Franklin.
Texas and Ohio announced plans to obtain drugs from compounding pharmacies in October 2013. Documents released in January show that Louisiana had contacted a compounding pharmacy regarding execution drugs, but it is unclear whether the drugs were obtained there.
Washington D.C.-based DPIC is a nonprofit organization that tracks information on issues concerning capital punishment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report