Michelle Byrom

I am so proud and excited to announce that Michelle Byrom, held on Mississippi death row for 16 years is now a free woman and living 30 miles from me. I wrote to Michelle for ten of those 16 years. She is kind and wonderful woman who suffered imaginable hell.

She was convicted for the murder of her husband even though her son confessed to the murder and she was in the hospital when the murder occurred. Her jury wasnt even allowed to see the evidence that proved her innocence until her 2014 retrial.

I'll be visiting the lovely Michelle tomorrow to hear all about her experience and to help her begin her new life. I am so excited!


Iowa Woman Receives Commendation but Denied Release

This 2009 photo provided by the Iowa Department of Corrections shows Yvette Louisell. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday, June 26, 2015 that Louisell will stay behind bars for now in the 1987 stabbing death of a 40-year-old Ames man, overturning a judge’s order that she be released. ( Iowa Department of Corrections via AP) Photo: AP

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The parole board, not a judge, must decide whether to release a woman who has been rehabilitated in prison after killing a man in 1987 when she was a teenager, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Even as it praised her remarkable turnaround, the court overturned a judge's order that would have let Yvette Louisell immediately out of the women's prison in Mitchellville. Now her fate rests with the Iowa Board of Parole, which has refused to release other inmates who were juveniles when they committed killings despite pressure from courts to consider doing so.

The ruling disappointed Louisell's supporters and sentencing reform advocates, who argue she's exactly the type of reformed offender who should no longer be behind bars.

Now 44, Louisell was a bright but troubled 17-year-old Iowa State University student when she stabbed 40-year-old Keith Stilwell to death in his home in Ames.

The two met at an art institute, where Louisell had taken a job as a nude model to earn money. Stilwell, an art student at the institute, hired Louisell to model at his home for a higher wage. During one session, she contended that Stilwell cornered her with a knife and said he was going to rape her. She claimed that she was able to get the knife and stab him in self-defense.

But jurors rejected Louisell's self-defense justification — Stilwell was physically disabled and she was caught using his stolen credit card. She was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

She got a shot at freedom in recent years after state and federal courts ruled that juveniles cannot be automatically sentenced to life behind bars. In a separate but related case Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court said judges can only give life sentences to juvenile killers who are "irreparably corrupt, beyond rehabilitation, and thus unfit ever to re-enter society." Otherwise, they should make them eligible to one day earn parole.

About three dozen Iowa inmates convicted of first-degree murder as teenagers have been getting new sentencing hearings and seeking release. But the parole board has taken a tough approach, so far only conditionally releasing one of them, Kristina Fetters, to hospice care as she was dying of cancer in 2013.

At a resentencing hearing for Louisell last year, Judge James Ellefson changed her life sentence without parole to a 25-year term and gave her credit for time served. The ruling would have led to her immediate release, but the high court put it on hold after prosecutors appealed. The Iowa attorney general's office argued Ellefson didn't have the legal authority to change a life sentence to a fixed term and only could make her eligible for parole.

Writing Friday's opinion, Justice Daryl Hecht lauded Louisell for moving beyond a chaotic upbringing and troubled teenage years during her 27-year prison term, noting she earned a college degree with honors, became a published author and mentored other inmates. He noted the county attorney who prosecuted her and the judge who oversaw her trial supported her release.

"By all accounts, Louisell is a model inmate who has achieved rehabilitation; grown from a naive and impulsive youngster to a mature, accomplished, and intelligent woman; and accepted full responsibility for the crime she committed as a juvenile in 1987," Hecht wrote.

But he agreed Ellefson didn't have the power to impose a 25-year sentence and order her release. Instead, the parole board must consider whether to free Louisell, who is eligible for consideration immediately.

Louisell's attorneys argued in court that the board won't likely grant release given its track record of denying requests from other ex-juvenile offenders. Hecht noted that juveniles convicted of crimes must be afforded a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release" based on rehabilitation, but said that it wasn't ripe for the court to decide whether that's been denied to Louisell.

Jean Basinger, an advocate for inmates who has known Louisell during her time in prison, said she hopes the board will quickly interview Louisell.

"I think she has a lot of skills and she's definitely remorseful. I don't think she's a risk," Basinger said. "I don't really see the point of keeping her in any longer."


Gypsy Blancharde Missouri

This is a weird one. Gypsy lived in Missouri with her mother, Clauddinnea Blancharde, where the two existed on a stream of elaborate financial frauds. Investigations are still pending but it seems the family claimed to be hurricane Katrina victims from which they solicited donations and many neighbors thought Gypsy was suffering from Muscular Dystrophy. They never saw her out of her wheelchair and she seemed genuinely afflicted by the disease from which they received many donations.

Gypsy, 23, met Nicholas Godejohn, 26, online and the two fell in love. As the story goes so far, Gypsy talked him into killing her mother so the two could be together. Perhaps Clauddinnea was growing afraid that a new relationship for Gypsy meant an end to her many scams. Whatever the reason, the two murdered her on June 14 with several stab wounds.

They took several thousand dollars from a safe in the house and left the house in a cab. They wrapped up the murder weapon and mailed it to Nicholas's house in wisconsin and headed there themselves. Once they arrived, Gypsy made several Facebook posts indicated something had happened to her mother. Family and friends saw and notified police. POlice arrived to find her face down in her bed with multiple stab wounds in her back.

No one suspected the "disabled" daughter but she was nowhere to be found. Cyber forensics was able to trace her Facebook posts to her boyfriends house. Slowly, investigators have been sorting out this insane tale.

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