Ronni Mott: She broke the story about Mississippi’s last attempted execution

Ronni Mott (neé Beate Veronika Frisch) was a reporter and editor in Mississippi. 

Born in Germany to Austrian parents on July 12, 1956, she was raised in New York City and Fairfax, Va., where she graduated from high school. She attended the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Mott worked in the marketing field for telecommunications companies. She moved to Mississippi at age 41 as a marketing professional. In 2006, she began a new career writing for the Jackson Free Press (JFP), a local alternative newsweekly, first as an intern before working her way up to managing editor.

She specialized in writing about gender, faith, sex trafficking and violence. Her reporting on domestic violence, about which she often wrote about her own experiences, made her a leading national voice on the subject. She left the paper in 2013 and became a yoga instructor and freelance writer. 

On Feb. 24 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a Mississippi death-row prisoner named Michelle Byrom, one of two women on death row at the time and the first Mississippi would execute in 70 years. 

Byrom had been convicted of capital murder for orchestrating the murder-for-hire plot against her husband, Edward, in 1999 in the northeast Mississippi town of Iuka. After Byrom’s appeal was denied, Mississippi’s Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood requested an execution date for Byrom of March 27, 2014. 

On March 19, Mott, writing for the Jackson Free Press, published a story about Byrom’s case highlighting evidence that prosecutors never presented to her jurors. 

That evidence included a confession from Byrom’s son, Edward Byrom Jr., that he hired his friend, Joey Gillis, to carry out the murder. Later, Byrom Jr. also said law enforcement coerced him into implicating his mother in the conspiracy. He and Gillis were convicted on lesser charges and were released from prison in 2009 and 2013, respectively. Mott’s series included reporting that Byrom’s  jury did not hear evidence about the sexual and domestic violence she experienced during her life, including by Edward Byrom Sr.

Mott’s coverage drew national headlines, calls for Byrom’s conviction to be thrown out and a public pressure campaign on Mississippi government officials to overturn the case. Subsequently, on March 31, 2014, the conservative Mississippi Supreme Court reversed her death sentence and ordered her a new trial with a new judge. 

Advocates in Mississippi credited Mott’s reporting with raising awareness about the problems with the case, which laid the foundation for the state high court’s ruling. 

“Regardless of whether Michelle was guilty or not, she certainly did not get a fair trial,” Mott later told Mississippi Today.

In 2015, Michelle Byrom was released from jail after 16 years. Three-and-a-half years later, in January 2019, Byrom died while living in Tennessee

In June 2019, Mott took the helm as editor-in-chief of the Vicksburg (Miss.) Daily News, where she edited stories of local, regional and national interest, including the coronavirus pandemic.

She passed away in early 2021 at age 64 at her home in Mississippi. 

Mississippi has not attempted to carry out an execution since Byrom.

Reckon covers women year-round. But since it’s Women’s History Month, we want to introduce you to Southern women we should all know about and whose props are long overdue.  

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