Debra Milke, 49, walked out of Arizona prison and off death row today, at least for the mean time. Milke was convicted over 20 years ago for the 1989 murder of her four-year-old son, Christopher. She will be retried on 30 September when prosecutors will attempt to again place her on death row.
A $250,000 bond was posted after a Thursday ruling and Milke was escorted from Lower Buckeye Jail at about 3pm Friday. Her movements will be monitored and restricted and she will reside in a home purchased for her by supporters.
Milke’s road to a retrial was not short. A 2009 appeals court overturned her conviction, finding that her confession was coerced. This confession was all that tied Milke directly to the murders. Five months ago, a Maricopa County Superior Court Judge, Rosa Mroz, overturned Milke’s sentence when she ruled that evidence of misconduct by the lead detective on the case was not disclosed by prosecutors. Milke’s lawyers have since accused the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office of political motivations for pursuing the case, requesting they be disqualified; Judge Mroz denied that request.
The detective at the center of the controversy, now retired Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate Jr., has been involved in eight cases of confessions or indictments thrown out by judges, four for lying under oath and four for violation of suspect’s constitutional rights. Saldate testified at Milke’s original trial that she confessed in a closed interrogation room but Saldate’s honesty was called into question during the appeals.
For Milke’s part, she has maintained that she is innocent of her son’s killing and denies that she confessed. The original jury that convicted her resolved that she conspired with two men, former roommate James Styers, and Roger Scott—both still on death row—to kill the boy in the desert by shooting him in the back of the head. They had allegedly lured him out by dressing him in his favorite outfit and promising him a mall visit with Santa Claus with the purpose of collecting insurance money; Milke was an insurance company clerk when Christopher was murdered.
Milke’s ex-husband, Arizona Milke, spoke to the press about her release. “She’s a sociopath, plain and simple,” he said. He expressed the pain he feels and promises to be in court every day come Milke’s retrial as he was in the original trial, excepting one day. Arizona Milke is afraid, however, that she will be acquitted in a retrial. He asked Judge Mroz to deny the bond, and professed that both he and Milke are alcoholics.
Maricopa County has received its share of attention from the press, most recently for a racial profiling case against controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio.[Video and Image via YouTube.]