Debra Milke : Woman's case dismissed after 22 years on death row
Debra Milke : Woman's case dismissed after 22 years on death row

Debra Milke : Woman’s case dismissed after 22 years on death row

Debra Milke, a Phoenix woman who spent more than 22 years on death row on a conviction of conspiring to murder her 4-year-old son in 1989 had the case against her dismissed on Thursday by the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The Arizona Court of Appeals said the charges against Debra Jean Milke in the 1989 death of her son Christopher can’t be refiled. A three-judge panel said it agrees with Debra Milke’s argument that a retrial would amount to double jeopardy.

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The court held that prosecutors’ failure to turn over evidence that could have helped Debra Milke’s defense was egregious, calling the actions “a severe stain on the Arizona justice system.”

“Nondisclosure of this magnitude calls into question the integrity of the system and was highly prejudicial to Milke,” the court wrote. “In these circumstances — which will hopefully remain unique in the history of Arizona law — the most potent constitutional remedy is required.”

Authorities say Debra Milke dressed her son in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall in December 1989. He was then taken into the desert outside Phoenix by two men and shot in the back of the head.

The court said it wasn’t expressing an opinion on Debra Milke’s guilt or innocence, though it heavily criticized authorities for staking much of their case on a detective with credibility problems.

A federal appeals court threw out Debra Milke’s first-degree murder conviction in March 2013, saying prosecutors knew about a history of misconduct by the detective but failed to disclose it. Maricopa County prosecutors were preparing for a retrial.

Debra Milke’s appellate attorney, Lori Voepel, was ecstatic at the victory, which prosecutors could appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“We’re all thrilled,” Voepel said. “We still have the gag order so we can’t say much more than we’re all thrilled with the opinion.”

Debra Milke has been free on bail since September 2013 as she awaited retrial.

A spokesman for Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery had no immediate comment.

“This is really a sock in the gut — it’s a cheap shot,” said Arizona Milke, Christopher’s father and ex-husband of Debra Milke. “She shouldn’t walk free, because she’s guilty.”

Debra Milke was convicted in 1990. The original case rested largely on her purported confession, which Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate did not record. He has since retired, and The Associated Press has made repeated efforts to reach him for comment.

That left jurors with Saldate’s word alone that she told him about her involvement. Debra Milke has maintained her innocence and denied she ever confessed.

In its ruling overturning Milke’s conviction, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited numerous instances in which Saldate committed misconduct in previous cases, including lying under oath and violating suspects’ rights. The federal appeals court also asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Saldate had committed civil rights violations.

Prosecutors insist Debra Milke is guilty, but Saldate has claimed he fears potential federal charges if he testifies at a retrial, based on the appeals court accusations of misconduct.

In December, Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz granted Saldate’s request to assert his Fifth Amendment right, allowing him to refuse to take the stand.

The state Court of Appeals overturned that ruling in April and said Saldate would be forced to testify at the retrial. Both county and federal authorities said they don’t intend to seek charges against the detective based on any of the accusations leveled by the federal appeals court.

Saldate’s attorney countered that authorities had offered no guarantees that he wouldn’t face charges in the future based on his testimony, and an appeal to the state Supreme Court was expected.

Judge Mroz had previously said that if Saldate didn’t testify again, the purported confession likely couldn’t be used at her retrial.

Debra Milke’s defense sought dismissal of the entire case against her, noting in a previous motion that “the only direct evidence linking defendant to the crimes is the defendant’s alleged confession to Saldate.”

The two men convicted in Christopher’s death did not testify against Debra Milke and remain on death row.

Debra Milke, whose mother was a German who married a U.S. Air Force military policeman in Berlin in the 1960s, has drawn strong support from citizens of that nation and Switzerland, neither of which has the death penalty.

Debra Milke’s mother died in Germany in August after a battle with cancer. A week earlier, a judge had denied Milke’s request for permission to travel to Germany to visit her sick mother.


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    One comment

    1. Having lived here in the States just about as long as I did in Canada, I do see some disturbing differences…..Here, district attorneys are elected, which can lead to all kinds of problems….They have their scorecard, and don’t like anyone messing up their stats…….Please Canada…Don’t let anyone bullshit you into believing that Crown Prosecutors should be replaced with the American model….Down here it’s party politics first, and then make a case no matter what….Even if the truth is obvious and ignored….e.g. Durham N.C., D.A. and Duke Lacrosse players…He was trying to ruin those kid’s lives, but forgot about the Duke Law alumni….It was total bullshit, and I don’t even know if he’s allowed to practice law…

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