Debra Milke, who was convicted of murder for the death of her 4-year-old son, Christopher Milke, in 1990 and was on Arizona's death row for the last 22 years, walked free Friday. Milke’s conviction was overturned in March 2013 and the judge presiding over her case let her go free after supporters posted her $250,000 bond.
Prosecutors are looking to retry the case and put Milke, now 49, back on death row, reports the Associated Press. Milke left the Maricopa County Jail on bond as she awaits her retrial. Milke has spent the last 22 years on death row after being convicted of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, child abuse and kidnapping.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in March, stating Milke did not receive a fair trial. The testimony of Armando Saldate Jr., a now-retired detective who testified that Milke confessed to the murder of her son for a $5,000 insurance payout, was not disclosed during the trial. Saldate also had a history of lying under oath, which would affect his credibility as he was the only individual who heard Milke confess.
According to the ruling, “Petitioner Milke’s conviction was based largely on the testimony of Police Detective Saldate, who allegedly obtained her confession. The panel held that the state remained unconstitutionally silent instead of disclosing information about Det. Saldate’s history of misconduct and accompanying court orders and disciplinary action.”
Kozinki, in his summary, said Saldate did not record or write down Milke’s confession, while she denied ever confessing and provided a different account of the interrogation. Saldate did not have Milke sign a waiver of her Miranda rights and claimed he destroyed all his notes after filing his report. “The jury thus had nothing more than Saldate’s word that Milke confessed. Everything the state claims happened in the interrogation room depends on believing Saldate’s testimony,” said Kozinki.
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In the summary, Kozinki said there was no physical evidence linking Milke to the crime and the two men who shot the child, Jim Styers and Roger Scott, did not testify during her trial. Scott confessed to shooting the child and led police to the boy’s body. Styers and Scott are currently on death row.
The supporters who posted Milke’s bail are residents of Emmetten, a Swiss town where her mother, Renate Janka, resides, reports AP. The community’s former president, Max Krucker, and other organizers have spent the last decade raising money and collecting donations for Milke’s defense. Janka also had to sell her home to help pay for her daughter’s legal bills. Milke will live in a home in the Phoenix area that was paid for by her supporters, notes AP.
As part of the decision, the state must turn over Saldate’s personnel records to Milke’s lawyers. Judge Rosa Mroz, from the Maricopa County Superior Court, scheduled a Sept. 23 hearing on the use of Saldate’s testimony and confession during the retrial, scheduled for Sept. 30.