A woman who had spent more than 22 years on death row was allowed to walk free after an Arizona appeals court dismissed previous murder charges related to her four-year-old son death in 1989.
Debra Milke, 51, had been free on bond for two years, but she was forced to wear an electronic-tracking bracelet around her ankle. On March 23, Judge Rosa Mroz dismissed the case in a brief hearing a week after prosecutors failed to win their final appeal. Judge Mroz also asked for Ms. Milke’s bracelet removal.
In 1990, prosecutors accused Milke of killing her own son, Christopher, after dressing him in his favorite outfit and telling him that she was taking him to see Santa at a local mall in December, 1989.
The body of the boy was later found in the desert near Phoenix. According to the court papers, two men shot him in the back of the head. One of the killers was Ms. Milke boyfriend.
According to investigators, the woman didn’t want her son to live anymore since she didn’t want to take care of him, but neither did she want that his father obtain custody. Over these years, Ms. Milke said she was innocent and denied to acknowledge that she had ever confessed to the killing. Both men who killed the boy are currently on the death row and declined to testify against her.
In 1997, the Arizona Supreme Court even issued a death warrant for Ms. Milke, but the execution was postponed several times due to federal appeals. Yet, in 2013, an appeals court overturned the 1997 ruling because prosecutors didn’t disclose the history of bad behavior of the main investigator that put Ms. Milke in jail.
The Arizona woman’s conviction was based on a single confession, in the absence of an attorney, given by Ms. Milke to now-retired Phoenix detective Armando Saldate. According to other courts’ rulings, Saldate lied under oath or abused his suspects during interrogations. Such aspects and many others weren’t disclosed by prosecutors in Ms. Milke’s case.
In 1973, Mr. Saldate received a five-day suspension after sexually harassing a female motorist he had stopped on the road. In 1982, he interrogated a bed-ridden suspect that was so disconnected that he failed to even remember his own name.
However, in 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals described Mr. Saldate’s testimony that led to the Arizona woman’s conviction as “flimsy evidence” that no civilized law system should take into account. Despite all these, Attorney Bill Montgomery said in 2013 that Saldate gave an honest testimony and supported the former detective’s testimony.
Milke’s attorney said Monday that the journey of his client’s may not be yet over with her recent freedom. He also said that Ms. Milke was innocent all along, while her conviction depended on the testimony of a detective that “totally lied.”
Saldate declined to testify to any retrial because of the federal charges he may face due to his past history of misconduct. But, federal authorities announced that they won’t seek charges against him, while a state court ruled that the former police officer would testify even if he didn’t want to.