Debra Jean Milke
The convictions of Arizona death row inmate Debra Jean Milke were overturned Thursday by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Milke has spent the past 22 years on death row for the 1989 murder of her 4-year-old son Christopher.
On the day of the murder, James Styers, a man Milke shared an apartment with, was supposed to have taken Christopher to a mall to see Santa Claus, while Milke stayed home to do chores. Instead, Styers and a friend, Roger Scott, took the boy into the desert and shot him three times in the back of the head. Styers then went to the mall and reported the boy missing to mall security.
Both Styers and Scott were brought in and questioned by police. The investigation was run by former detective Armando Saldate Jr. During questioning Scott admitted knowing that Christopher was dead and offered to take Saldate to the murder scene. According to Saldate, while en route to the scene, Scott made the claim the child had been killed because Milke wanted it done. No one else witnessed hearing this statement allegedly made by Scott. In fact the other officer present in the patrol car at the time did not mention anything in his report about Scott’s alleged comments. Styers denied Milke was involved at trial, and Scott never accused Milke during his testimony.
Armando Saldate Jr.
After Christopher was found, Saldate interviewed Milke in a small room with no other witnesses present. Saldate left the interview room claiming that Milke confessed to plotting her son’s murder. Milke denies to this day that she confessed to Saldate. No written record or recording of the interview exists, and Saldate now claims his notes from the interview have been destroyed.
Styers, Scott, and Milke, were all sentenced to death for the murder of Christopher Milke. Debra Milke’s conviction was based only on Saldate’s testimony that she “confessed” to being involved, along with his claim that Scott told him Milke wanted it done. Detective Saldate had a court documented history of corruption that was not disclosed by the prosecution. Saldate’s testimony was used to build a case against Milke suggesting that she wanted her son dead so she could cash in on a life insurance policy.
The federal appeals court ruled that the prosecution failed to disclose information about a history of misconduct by Saldate. “No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence, quite possibly tainted by dishonesty or overzealousness, to decide whether to take someone’s life or liberty. The Phoenix Police Department and Saldate’s supervisors there should be ashamed of having given free rein to a lawless cop to misbehave again and again, undermining the integrity of the system of justice they were sworn to uphold. As should the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which continued to prosecute Saldate’s cases without bothering to disclose his pattern of misconduct,” Chief Justice Alex Kozinski wrote.
Arizona authorities must now turn over all documentation related to former detective Saldate. After the documentation is reviewed, prosecutors will have 30 days to decide whether to retry the case. If they decide against a retrial, Debra Milke will be released from prison. A new trial seems implausible without the testimony of Saldate, meaning that freedom could come very soon for Debra Milke.
You can download and read the federal appeals court decision here: http://debmi.me/07-99001_relief
Visit www.debbiemilke.com to view a comprehensive history of the case.
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