Six months after a federal appeals court overturned her murder conviction, Debra Milke has been released on bond. Milke spent more than two decades on death row after a jury convicted her of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, child abuse and kidnapping on October 12, 1990, less than a year after her four-year-old son was found shot to death in the desert outside Phoenix, Arizona.
Although Milke has been released from prison, she has not been exonerated of her crime. She remains free while her defense team prepares for a new trial.
In March of this year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Milke’s conviction, stating that prosecutors failed to disclose information that may have cast doubt on the credibility of the detective who claimed Milke confessed to setting up the murder of her son. Judge Alex Kozinski ruled that Milke did not receive a fair trial.
The detective in question, Armando Saldate, Jr., of the Phoenix Police Department, had a long history of lying under oath and other misconduct. Tragically, although Milke claimed she never confessed to her son’s murder, the jury chose to believe Detective Saldate, even though Milke’s interrogation and alleged confession was not recorded or witnessed by anyone. There were no witnesses or direct evidence to link Milke to the murder of her young son other than the Detective Saldate’s testimony of her confession.
Judge Kozinski noted four cases in which judges threw out confessions or indictments because Saldate lied under oath and four other cases in which cases were tossed out or confessions excluded because Saldate violated the suspect’s constitutional rights.
According to the court, Saldate had also been suspended for accepting sexual favors from a female motorist he stopped and then lying about the encounter.
“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,” Judge Kozinski wrote in his court decision.
The Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office is planning to seek the death penalty against Milke at her retrial later this month. Although prosecutors are hoping to be able to use Milke’s purported confession in the retrial, Judge Rosa Mroz of the Maricopa County Superior Court said the purported confession from Saldate “casts serious doubt” on its validity.
Milke’s defense team has requested that the prosecution be barred from using Milke’s alleged confession during her retrial tentatively scheduled for September 30. Judge Mroz has set a September 23 court hearing to hear arguments on whether the confession should be prohibited or allowed in Debra Milke’s retrial.