Executed April 23, 2004 06:15 p.m. by Lethal Injection in South Carolina
W / M / 27 - 38 W / F / 36
24th murderer executed in U.S. in 2004
909th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
3rd murderer executed in South Carolina in 2004
31st murderer executed in South Carolina since 1976
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Jason Scott Byram
Julie Johnson had been an elementary school teacher for 12 years, specializing in emotionally handicapped children with special needs. In the early morning hours of May 23, 1993 she was dozing on her living room couch with her husband and three children asleep upstairs. Byram broke and entered through her kitchen window, took her purse and stole her van. Hours later, Byram came back to steal a TV and VCR. Upon his return, he woke Johnson and stabbed her repeatedly with a butcher knife from the kitchen. After she was stabbed, Johnson made it to the front yard where her husband and a police officer heard her final words. She died on the way to the hospital. When Byram was arrested later that afternoon, he admitted to police he had entered Johnson's home and stabbed her to keep her quiet, but said it was an accomplice named "Jim" who stabbed her repeatedly and killed her. Byram's fingerprint was found at the scene of the murder, and an eyewitness testified they saw him after the murder driving a van with blood on his shirt and no passengers. No evidence of an accomplice was ever found. The jury decided he had none.
W / M / 27 - 38
W / F / 36
Byram v. Ozmint, 339 F.3d 203 (4th Cir. 2003) (Habeas)
State v. Byram, 485 S.E.2d 360 (S.C. 1997) (Direct Appeal).
Steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, collard greens, corn bread, banana pudding, cherry cheesecake, apple cobbler and sweet iced tea.
Inside the death chamber, Byram’s attorney Jay Elliott read a statement attributed to Byram: “While I maintain my innocence, I do want to express my condolences to the family of Mrs. Johnson, and I fully understand they only seek justice for their daughter.” In the statement, Byram also expressed his appreciation to the S.C. Department of Corrections concerning his treatment. It concluded with a reading of John 3:16 and the words, “I believe.” Byram then turned his head to the left and mouthed a few words to the witnesses.
South Carolina Department of Corrections
Inmate: BYRAM, JASON SCOTT
Inmate #: 00005007
Height: 6' 01"
Weight: 165 lbs.
County of Conviction: RICHLAND
Date of Sentencing: 03/09/1995
"SC executes Jason Scott Byram." (April 23, 2004)
(Columbia) - Jason Scott Byram was executed at 6:15pm on Friday by lethal injection. A final appeal to stay the scheduled execution was denied by the South Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday. Byram's attorneys had appealed to the court to stop the execution because the jury who sentenced him to death never got a chance to hear specific evidence about abuse during Byram's childhood. That follow's the United States Supreme Court's decision last month not to hear his case on appeal.
Byram, 38, was convicted in 1995 of stabbing 36-year-old Julie Johnson to death with her own kitchen knife as she slept on a sofa in her Columbia home in 1993. Her husband and three children were asleep.
Johnson's mother, Peggy Ferrell, said she wanted at least some compassion from Byram, even if it was his final words. She says Byram was always very cold and never changed his expression. In a statement read just before his execution, Byram said he was innocent, but offered condolences to Johnson's family that read in part, "I understand they only seek justice for their daughter." Johnson's mother held her brother's hand as the lethal chemicals were injected into Byram.
Earlier this month, Byram changed his mind shortly after asking to be put to death in the electric chair, which he thought would be less painful, saying he did not want to put witnesses through the stress of watching him die in the electric chair.
The victim's husband, Jeff Johnson, spoke after the execution and says justice was served, "And so what's happened here today is justice was done for the citizens of South Carolina. Not for me and not for my family. It was done for everybody out there that goes to bed at night." Peggy Ferrell says she felt she had to witness the execution, "I have no feelings of vindictiveness, just profound sorrow that I will probably carry for the rest of my life. But today I followed through with this to fulfill something that I needed to fulfill for Julia."
Byram was convicted in 1995. He told authorities there was another man with him who struck the fatal blows, but prosecutors found his fingerprint inside the home and a DNA analysis found Johnson's blood on a shirt in Byram's apartment. Prosecutor Barney Giese was confident the jury convicted the right man and has said there was no evidence another man was involved.
Byram was the 31th inmate sent to the death chamber since capital punishment was reinstated in the Palmetto State in 1976. Last Friday, the state put to death 51-year-old Jerry Bridwell McWee, an Aiken County man convicted of killing a convenience store clerk in July 1991. David Clayton, convicted of the 1994 killing a Georgetown police officer, died by lethal injection in March.
"Man Executed for 1993 Killing of Rosewood Woman," by J.R. Gonzales. (April 24, 3004)
Strapped to a gurney and with a needle in his outstretched, tattooed arm, Jason Byram, in the last seconds of his life, looked at Peggy Ferrell and mouthed some words to her. Ferrell, mother of slain schoolteacher Julie Johnson, had a front row seat Friday to Byram’s execution. She surmised what Byram said was an apology, an expression of regret for stabbing her daughter with a butcher knife nearly 11 years ago. “I just nodded my head and thanked him,” Ferrell said.
Prison officials pronounced Byram dead at 6:15 p.m. He was executed for fatally stabbing the Harbison West Elementary teacher at her Rosewood home in May 1993. Johnson, 36, was married and the mother of three.
Inside the death chamber, Byram’s attorney Jay Elliott read a statement attributed to Byram: “While I maintain my innocence, I do want to express my condolences to the family of Mrs. Johnson, and I fully understand they only seek justice for their daughter.” In the statement, Byram also expressed his appreciation to the S.C. Department of Corrections concerning his treatment. It concluded with a reading of John 3:16 and the words, “I believe.” Byram then turned his head to the left and mouthed a few words to the witnesses. He then looked up, blinked sleepily, and began to breathe through his slightly closed mouth. Within 30 seconds, about five minutes after 6 p.m., he stopped blinking and stared at the ceiling.
“Justice was done for the citizens of South Carolina, not for me, not for my family,” said Johnson’s husband, Jeff Johnson. “Due process was done here, and everybody should be proud that 11 years of due process was done.” About a dozen death penalty protesters gathered outside the department’s administrative offices on Broad River Road before the execution. Byram’s friend, Cindy Macias, described Byram as a “very gentle, loving person.” “He admits to being there, having been at the house,” she said. “He’s convinced somebody else did the crime.”
Prosecutors said Johnson was dozing on her couch early one morning when Byram broke her kitchen window, took her purse and stole her van. Hours later, Byram came back to steal a TV and VCR. When Johnson awoke, Byram stabbed her with a butcher knife. Nearly two years later, it took just over an hour for a jury to recommend a death sentence for the Beaufort native. Just before the jury made its decision, his attorneys said Byram bounced from home to home as a baby and later developed emotional problems.
Friday’s execution came one day after the state Supreme Court denied Byram’s request to stay his execution and review his death sentence. Byram was the third S.C. inmate put to death this year and the 31st since the state resumed executions in 1985. Of the more than 65 inmates on death row, none were convicted in Richland County.
Pro Death Penalty.comA man convicted of killing a schoolteacher in 1993 has been scheduled to be put to death April 23, the state attorney general's office said. Jason Scott Byram, 38, was convicted of stabbing 36-year-old Julie Johnson to death as she slept on a sofa in her home while her family slept upstairs. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Byram's appeal, said Trey Walker, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. A federal appeals court previously rejected Byram's claim that mistakes by his lawyers denied him a fair trial. Byram has not chosen whether to die by lethal injection or electrocution, according to the state Corrections Department. Johnson's home was broken into May 23, 1993. Byram was arrested later that afternoon. He told authorities he had entered Johnson's home and stabbed her but said it was an accomplice who stabbed her repeatedly, the attorney general's office said. According to testimony, police tried to find the accomplice but found no evidence of one.
UPDATE: Condemned inmate Jason Scott Byram has chosen to be electrocuted by the state Corrections Department on April 23, according to the agency. Electrocutions in South Carolina and throughout the country have been rare in recent years. The last inmate to choose to die in the electric chair in this state was Larry Gene Bell in 1996. Bell was convicted of murdering 2 young girls. Before Bell, mass murderer Donald "Pee Wee" Gaskins was executed in the electric chair in 1991 - before the state lethal injection as an option. Byram's attorney Jay Elliott said Tuesday he had heard his client had chosen electrocution, but he had not yet spoken with him. "He can change his mind," said Elliott, who was unsure whether he would try to persuade his client one way or another. "I think that ultimate determination is up to him." In South Carolina, inmates can choose between lethal injection and electrocution. Nationwide, there have been 21 executions this year - none by electrocution, according to Robert Deans, a researcher with Death Penalty Information Center. The last electrocution in the United States was Eric Bramblett on April 9, 2003, in Virginia, Deans said.
Charleston Post and Courier
"Killer maintains innocence prior to execution." (AP April 24, 2004)
COLUMBIA--Convicted killer Jason Scott Byram maintained his innocence in his final statement before he was executed at 6:15 p.m. Friday for the death of a Columbia schoolteacher. Through his attorney Jay Elliott, he sent his condolences to the family of Julie Johnson. Johnson's mother held her brother's hand as the lethal chemicals were given to Byram.
Byram, 38, was convicted of killing the 36-year-old teacher with her own kitchen knife in May 1993 as she slept on the sofa. Her husband and three children also were asleep but didn't wake up until after Johnson had been stabbed several times. Byram was convicted in 1995. He told authorities there was another man with him who struck the fatal blows, but prosecutors found his fingerprint inside the home and a DNA analysis found Johnson's blood on a shirt in Byram's apartment.
Prosecutor Barney Giese was confident the jury convicted the right man, and has said there was no evidence another man was involved. Byram lost a final appeal to the state Supreme Court earlier this week. He is the 31st inmate put to death in South Carolina since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Jason Byram (SC) - April 23, 6 PM EST
The state of South Carolina is scheduled to execute Jason Scott Byram, a white man, April 23 for the 1993 murder of Julie Johnson in Richland County.
Mr. Byram was placed in six foster homes before the age of four, when he was adopted by a family that would beat him severely for years. Mr. Byram is said to suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and weighed three pounds at birth, which contributed to a developmental delay.
Mr. Byram’s trial counsel did not present this evidence to a jury. One sentence of mitigation was offered relating to his abuse as a young boy, “Ruby Byram (his adoptive mother) was harsh with her punishment.” In reality, one week after Mr. Byram was placed with this family, Ruby admitted to their case worker that she had “beaten Jason until her wrist hurt.” This abuse continued to a point where social services were going to remove Mr. Byram from the home. At that point, a family friend and legislator was contacted, and he put an end to the protective action. None of this evidence was investigated or presented to the jury.
Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Wiggins v. Smith and Williams v. Taylor, deal state explicitly that lawyers must investigate all mitigation evidence as it could potentially influence the sentencing outcome. Mr. Byram’s case has never been heard in light of the Wiggins and Williams decisions held together.
Mr. Byram was abandoned very early on in life; first by his parents and then by a child welfare system that failed to protect him from horrific abuse. He has diminished mental capacity from being exposed to alcohol as a fetus and suffered developmental delays. The system made a mistake in failing to protect Mr. Byram, and the government should not be in the business of exterminating its mistakes and killing its citizens.
Please take a moment to contact Gov. Mark Sanford and urge him to commute the death sentence of Mr. Byram. Please further urge Gov. Sanford to declare a moratorium on all executions in South Carolina.
The Sumpter Item
"Byram executed for killing schoolteacher in 1993," by Jacob Jordan. (AP April 24, 2004)
Jason Scott Byram maintained his innocence up until his execution Friday, but the mother of the schoolteacher Byram was convicted of killing says she was thankful he expressed sympathy. Byram, 38, died by lethal injection at 6:15 p.m. for the death of Julie Johnson, who was fatally stabbed with her own kitchen knife in May 1993 as she slept on her sofa. Johnson's husband and three children also were asleep in the home when the 36-year-old woman was killed.
Johnson's mother, Peggy Ferrell, said after witnessing the execution that she thought Byram expressed remorse as he lay on the gurney with his arms outstretched. "I will go to my grave knowing he was looking at me. It was the first time I had eye contact with him and I felt like he was trying to say something," said Ferrell, a 70-year-old registered nurse from Spartanburg. "The second or third time that he did that, I just nodded my head and thanked him because I knew in my heart that there was an apology there."
Byram, dressed in a green jumpsuit, briefly looked through the glass window into the witness room before his attorney Jay Elliott read his final statement. "While I maintain my innocence, I do want to express my condolences to the family of Mrs. Johnson, and I fully understand they only seek justice for their daughter," the statement said. He also bid farewell to his family, friends and loved ones and his attorney read a Bible verse followed by the words, "I believe." As the statement was read, Ferrell reached out and held her brother's hand. Byram again looked into the witness room and mouthed something. His eyes began to blink slower, finally closing for good as he looked to the ceiling.
Byram maintained during his trial in 1995 that there was another man with him who fatally stabbed Johnson, but authorities never found any evidence of that. Authorities did find his fingerprint inside the home and a DNA analysis found Johnson's blood on a shirt in Byram's apartment. He also told his wife at the time that he had stabbed someone the day of the killing, prosecutors have said. "He admitted stabbing her. He admitted cutting her. He just said he didn't kill her, that the invisible man he said was with him gave the final blows," Ferrell said. "There was never another person. It was him and he was not innocent. The DNA proved that without a doubt."
Attorneys for Byram said he was abused by his foster mother from the time he was 6 months old and was mentally and emotionally impaired. They argued a jury never got to hear that evidence before they sentenced him to death, but the state Supreme Court denied that final appeal Thursday.
Johnson had been an elementary school teacher for about 12 years here. She taught students with emotional disturbances or behavior problems, her mother said. Those symptoms could have put a student like Byram in Johnson's class, her mother said. "Julie would've been the first to reach out and help him," she said.
Johnson's husband, Jeff, joined the family after the execution and expressed his thanks for the community's support. He was at his wife's side during her final moments as she lay bleeding on the family's front yard. "As far as myself and my children, 11 years later and how we're doing? We're doing very, very well," he said. "So what's happened here today was justice was done for the citizens of South Carolina, not for me and not for my family."
About a dozen protesters gathered in front of the Corrections Department administration building. Jeff Johnson said he respected the protesters, but he said the laws in this state "are very clear." Sal Macias, 50, was one of the protesters. The University of South Carolina Sumter professor said he and his wife met with Byram often, and he saw him the night before he was executed. Macias said Byram expressed many times he wished the incident did not occur, but he never admitted killing Johnson.
Byram was the 31st inmate put to death in South Carolina since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
The Daily Gamecock
"Byram scheduled to die today after judge denies final appeal," by Jacob Jordan. (The Associated Press April 23, 2004)
Peggy Ferrell says she wants at least some compassion from the condemned man who fatally stabbed her daughter more than 10 years ago - even if it's his final words. Ferrell's daughter, Julie Johnson, was killed in May 1993 with her own kitchen knife as she slept on a sofa in her downtown Columbia home. Her husband and three children also were asleep but didn't wake up until after Johnson had been stabbed several times.
Jason Scott Byram, 38, is scheduled to die for the killing today. His final appeal was denied by the state Supreme Court on Thursday.
Ferrell, of Spartanburg, said she wanted to witness the execution for her daughter. She said Byram's actions have made the execution a little easier. She said she will never forget the end of the two-week trial when Circuit Judge Gary Clary said, "May God have mercy on your soul," and Byram quipped back, "Yours, too." "He was so surly and unrepentive," said Ferrell, a 70-year-old registered nurse who still works part-time. "This guy was cold, cold, cold. People that look at his picture say, 'He just looks like evil.' ... He never changed his expression the two weeks we sat in that courtroom."
Asked if his client has ever shown any remorse, attorney Jay Elliot would not comment, citing the attorney-client privilege. He didn't know if he would talk to Byram before Friday or if his client would have a final statement. But Elliott said his client is not evil. Byram was abandoned as a child and abused by his foster mother, Elliott said, though he said none of that justifies the crime. "There are certainly degrees of human frailty and Jason Byram is a human being," Elliot said.
Though Ferrell doesn't expect Byram to show any remorse before he dies, she's not angry at him. "I don't wish vengeance or hell fire for him, I just want him to be punished for what he did and I want it to be over," Ferrell said.
The killing in 1993 shook Johnson's quiet neighborhood, prompting front-page headlines in the local newspaper. No one has ever explained to Ferrell why Byram broke into the home, stole the keys to the Johnson's van and drove away - only to come back apparently to steal a TV and VCR. Upon his return, he woke Johnson and confronted her with a knife. After she was stabbed, Johnson made it to the front yard where her husband and a police officer heard her final words. She died on the way to the hospital.
Prosecutor Barney Giese said he'll always remember this case. It wasn't his first death penalty trial, but it is the first one in which the execution will be carried out. "I still remember the case very vividly even over all those years, and I think the reason I remember it was because the facts were so horrific," Giese said. Many people were affected by Johnson's death, including her family and her students. "She was a special needs teacher who was beloved by her students," Giese said.
State v. Byram, 485 S.E.2d 360 (S.C. 1997) (Direct Appeal).
Defendant was convicted upon jury verdict in the Circuit Court, Richland County, Gary E. Clary, J., of murder, first-degree burglary, attempted armed robbery, and grand larceny of motor vehicle and was sentenced, respectively, to death, life imprisonment, 20 years' imprisonment, and 10 years imprisonment. Defendant appealed. The Supreme Court, Burnett, J., held that: (1) trial court properly excluded evidence that "Jim Doe" was accomplice referred to in defendant's statement; (2) defendant was not entitled to jury instruction on parole eligibility; (3) trial judge did not allow excessive victim impact evidence; and (4) defendant was not prejudiced by presence of television cameras in courtroom during sentencing phase of trial, notwithstanding court's erroneous conclusion that it lacked discretion to exclude television media without excluding other forms of media. Affirmed.
Appellant was convicted of murder, first degree burglary, attempted armed robbery, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle. He was sentenced, respectively, to death, life imprisonment, twenty years' imprisonment, and ten years' imprisonment. [FN1] This appeal consolidates his direct appeal with the mandatory review provisions of S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3- 25 (1985). We affirm. FN1. The jury found the statutory aggravating circumstances of burglary and robbery while armed with a deadly weapon.
I. Did the trial court err by excluding evidence that Jim Doe was the accomplice referred to in appellant's statement?
II. Did the trial judge err by refusing to instruct the jury on parole eligibility?
III. Did the trial judge err by allowing excessive victim impact evidence?
IV. Did the trial judge err by allowing television cameras in the courtroom during the sentencing phase of trial?
Appellant argues the trial judge erred by prohibiting him from introducing evidence that "Jim Doe" was the accomplice referred to in his statement. [FN2] He claims this evidence was not introduced to prove his innocence, but rather in mitigation of punishment. Appellant contends the trial judge's exclusion of this evidence violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.We disagree. FN2. At trial, appellant named a specific individual as his accomplice. We will refer to this individual as "Jim Doe."
During the guilt phase of trial, the evidence revealed that on Sunday, May 23, 1993, at approximately 3:00 a.m. the victim's home was broken into, her handbag and white van were stolen, and she was stabbed to death with her own butcher knife. Appellant was arrested later that afternoon. He gave a statement to the police in which he admitted entering the victim's home and stabbing her to keep her quiet. Appellant stated he had an accomplice named "Jim" whom he described as 5'7" tall, 180 pounds, bald-headed, and in his thirties. He stated he met Jim on May 22, 1993, outside of a particular gay bar. In his statement, appellant suggested Jim was the principal of the crimes and stated Jim repeatedly stabbed the victim.
According to testimony, the police attempted to locate "Jim," but found no one who matched the description and had been at the named gay bar or in the area on the evening of May 22, 1993. The manager of the bar testified the club is private and a person must either be a member or be with a member and fill out documentation to enter. He testified appellant was not a member of the club and did not enter the club on May 22, 1993. The manager further testified he patrols the parking lot of the club for vandals and saw no vans in the parking lot on the evening of May 22 or early on May 23. The manager stated he knew of no club member named "Jim" who was in his thirties, 5'7" tall, 180 pounds, and bald-headed. The victim's husband and a police officer testified the victim's statements before she died indicated only one person was involved in the assault.
An individual who rented a room in the same boarding house as appellant, and who was mentioned in appellant's statement, testified he saw appellant around 12:00 a.m. on May 23, 1993, in a white van. He stated appellant had blood on his shirt. The witness asked appellant who owned the van, and was told it belonged to a friend and not to tell anyone about it. The witness testified he did not see anyone else in the van.
At the close of the State's case, appellant stated he was prepared to introduce testimony regarding the identity of "Jim." The solicitor objected and the trial judge allowed appellant to proffer evidence regarding the identity of "Jim." Appellant explained the purpose of the proffered evidence was to bolster the statement he had given to the police. Noting the proffered evidence only speculated the "Jim" in appellant's statement was Jim Doe and the evidence was not inconsistent with appellant's guilt, the trial judge denied appellant's motion to admit evidence that "Jim" was Jim Doe. The trial judge relied on a line of cases which hold evidence offered by an accused as to another's commission of the crime charged must be limited to facts inconsistent with the accused's guilt and raise a reasonable inference or presumption of his innocence. Evidence which merely casts bare suspicion on another or raises conjectural inference as to his commission of crime is inadmissible.
As noted above, appellant now argues the proffered evidence was offered in mitigation of punishment, not to prove his innocence. The trial judge did not rule on this issue. Accordingly, the issue is not preserved for appeal. State v. McWee, 322 S.C. 387, 472 S.E.2d 235 (1996) (a constitutional argument is not preserved for appeal where appellant failed to argue the constitutional basis for his request at trial); State v. Tucker, 319 S.C. 425, 462 S.E.2d 263 (1995) (a party cannot argue one ground below and then argue another ground on appeal).
In any event, even if appellant had offered the testimony for the purpose of mitigating his sentence, the proffered evidence would still not have been admissible. While the Eighth Amendment prohibits the sentencer in capital cases from being precluded from considering as a mitigating factor any circumstance of the offense, such as the defendant's minor participation, for the purpose of imposing a sentence less than death, [FN5] the evidence offered must still be properly admissible.
Here, appellant proffered the testimony of four witnesses. One witness ("the bartender") testified his memory of May 22, 1993, was very weak, but he thought he was probably working as a bartender at a gay club on that evening. (The bartender did not work in the same club mentioned in appellant's statement). The bartender stated he thought on that evening a patron came into the club and later spoke with Jim Doe. The bartender described Jim Doe as 5'6" to 5'8" tall, possibly taller, 185 pounds, with medium brown hair, thinning on top. The bartender testified he could not recall whether he had ever seen appellant at the club or whether Jim Doe and appellant ever met at the club.
The patron testified he went with appellant to the club mentioned by the bartender between April and May 23, 1993, where he "set up" appellant with a very tall man (taller than 6'0") who weighed between 190 and 200 pounds and had a receding hairline. The patron testified he was sure the "set up" was not on May 22, 1993, and stated he did not know the man's name. The patron testified he knew one man named "Jim" who was very short, thin, and had a harelip. The former manager of this same club testified two days before appellant's trial an investigator from the Public Defender's Office asked him if he knew Jim Doe. The manager stated he knew Jim Doe and described him as 5'10" tall, 210 pounds, with a receding hairline. The manager offered no testimony indicating he had ever seen Jim Doe with appellant. Over the solicitor's objection and contrary to the bartender's testimony, an investigator with the Public Defender's Office testified the bartender had told him he believed "Jim" was Jim Doe and he had seen appellant leave the club on May 22, 1993, with Doe. The investigator stated Doe contacted him. The investigator met with Doe and described him as a white male, approximately 40 years old, about 5'8" tall, 175-180 pounds, with brown hair, balding in the front. The investigator testified Doe denied knowing appellant. Appellant did not call Doe as a witness. Appellant did not testify.
The only proffered evidence which places appellant with Jim Doe at any time was the testimony from the investigator. [FN6] However, this testimony impeached that of appellant's other witness, the bartender, and was, therefore, inadmissible. State v. Anderson, 304 S.C. 551, 406 S.E.2d 152 (1991) (a party must vouch for its own witness and may not impeach its witness unless the witness is declared hostile upon a showing of actual surprise and harm). [FN7] Accordingly, while appellant was entitled to offer in mitigation evidence that he was only a minor participant in the murder, he produced no relevant, admissible evidence which indicated Jim Doe was with him on the morning of the murder and was the accomplice referred to in his statement. [FN8]
FN6. Appellant's identification of a male with the common name "Jim" and with ordinary characteristics which fit the description of "Jim" in appellant's statement is, alone, not relevant evidence in mitigation. At issue was whether appellant actually knew Jim Doe and whether Jim Doe could have been the accomplice to the murder. State v. McWee, supra (evidence is relevant if it tends to make a fact in issue more or less probable).
FN7. Under Rule 607, SCRE, which became effective approximately six months after appellant's trial, a party may attack the credibility of its own witness.
FN8. Based on appellant's statement to the police, the court instructed the jury on mere presence, accomplice liability, and "the hand of one is the hand of all" during the guilt phase of trial. During the sentencing phase, the trial judge instructed the jury it must focus on appellant's own personal culpability in determining the appropriate sentence and could not impose the death penalty unless the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt appellant personally killed the victim or else personally intended that a killing take place or lethal force be used. Further, the trial judge instructed the jury it could consider in mitigation circumstances such as the defendant was an accomplice in the murder committed by another and his participation was relatively minor, and the defendant acted under duress or the domination of another person. See, S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-20(C)(b)(4) and (5) (Supp.1995).
* * * *
After reviewing the entire record, we conclude the death sentence was not the result of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor, and the jury's finding of statutory aggravating circumstances is supported by the evidence. See S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-25 (1985). Further, we hold the death penalty is neither excessive nor disproportionate to that imposed in similar cases.
Byram v. Ozmint, 339 F.3d 203 (4th Cir. 2003) (Habeas)
Following affirmance of his convictions of murder, first-degree burglary, attempted armed robbery, and grand larceny and his death sentence, 485 S.E.2d 360, and denial of state postconviction relief, petitioner sought writ of habeas corpus. The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Margaret B. Seymour, J., denied petition, and petitioner appealed. The Court of Appeals, Wilkinson, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) defendant did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel during jury selection on basis of counsel's use of nine out of 10 peremptory challenges against white jurors, and (2) determination that counsel was not ineffective in investigating petitioner's childhood was reasonable. Affirmed.
WILKINSON, Circuit Judge:
Appellant Jason Scott Byram was convicted by a South Carolina jury of murder, first degree burglary, attempted armed robbery, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle. He was sentenced to death for the murder, as well as to life, twenty, and ten year terms of imprisonment for his other crimes. After exhausting state remedies, Byram petitioned the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court rejected his claims, but issued a certificate of appealability pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c). Byram now appeals the district court's dismissal of his petition. We affirm.
On Sunday, May 23, 1993, at approximately 3:00 a.m., Julie Johnson, a school teacher and mother of three, was robbed and murdered in her home. The assailant broke into Johnson's home, stole her handbag and van, and stabbed her to death with her own butcher knife. Before dying, Mrs. Johnson indicated to her husband and the police that she was attacked by an individual acting alone.
Police investigating the murder found Jason Scott Byram's fingerprint at the crime scene and arrested Byram the afternoon of May 23. After being informed of his rights and signing a written waiver, Byram gave a statement to the police in which he admitted entering the victim's home and stabbing her to keep her quiet. The trial court held a hearing on the admissibility of Byram's confession and held that the statements were freely, knowingly, and voluntarily made. Byram told the police that he had an accomplice named "Jim" whom he had met the previous evening outside a bar in the area. The police investigated this claim but found no evidence that anyone matching Jim's description had been in the area that night.
At trial, an individual who rented a room in the same boarding house as Byram testified that he saw Byram in a white van on May 23. The witness stated that Byram had blood on his shirt and that when asked about the van, Byram said it belonged to a friend and not to tell anyone about it. The witness also testified that no one was in the van with Byram.
Byram was represented at trial by Douglas Strickler as lead counsel and public defender Lee Coggiola as second counsel. Strickler had previously tried more than ten non-capital murder cases and participated in two death penalty cases. He had also represented a death row petitioner for post-conviction relief (PCR). Coggiola had tried several major felony cases before being appointed to represent Byram. In addition, she had work experience at the Death Penalty Resource Center. Strickler's time records show that he spent approximately 623.5 hours preparing Byram's case. Although Coggiola did not document the amount of time she devoted to preparation, she testified that she met with Byram at least thirty times before trial.
On March 7, 1995, Byram was convicted by a jury in Columbia, South Carolina of murder, first-degree burglary, attempted armed robbery, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle. During the sentencing phase of the trial, the defense presented mitigating evidence. Trial counsel retained forensic psychiatrist Dr. Donald Morgan and forensic psychologist Dr. Geoff McKee to evaluate Byram and to determine if Byram possibly suffered from any brain damage. Evelyn Califf, a social worker, and investigator Patti Rickborn also assisted Coggiola in preparing the mitigation evidence. Califf testified that she met with Byram five times and that she reviewed Byram's school records and a summary of his foster care placements. Rickborn contacted several of Byram's natural and adoptive family members and helped Strickler obtain records pertaining to Byram's adoption in Alabama.
The trial court qualified Califf as an expert in the area of adoptions and learning disabilities. During the sentencing phase of the trial, Califf testified about Byram's troubled childhood and adolescence. She related details of his early family life in an abusive home and the fact that he was slow to develop as a young child. Califf also reported that Byram had difficulties in school and that his intelligence was in the "dull normal" range.
Despite the mitigation evidence presented by defense counsel, the jury recommended imposition of the death penalty. The trial judge reviewed this recommendation and determined that the evidence justified the punishment in this case and that the recommendation was not the result of prejudice, passion or any other arbitrary factor. The trial court therefore sentenced Byram to death.
The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed Byram's conviction and sentence on April 28, 1997. State v. Byram, 326 S.C. 107, 485 S.E.2d 360 (1997), rehearing denied (May 21, 1997). Byram then filed for state post-conviction relief. After a hearing, the South Carolina Circuit Court denied Byram's request for relief. Byram then filed a petition with the South Carolina Supreme Court, which the court denied on January 11, 2002. Byram next filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. Respondents filed a motion for summary judgment on March 22, 2002, and the matter was referred to a United States magistrate judge. The magistrate judge recommended dismissal. On October 2, 2002, the district court entered an order granting summary judgement in favor of the State, but the district court issued a certificate of appealability concerning his claims on January 10, 2003. Byram now appeals the district court's decision.
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We therefore affirm the district court's dismissal of Byram's petition.