Debra Jean Milke will not have to wait for her retrial in prison. She will be allowed to stay in a house in the Pheonix area purchased for her by supporters. Milke is one of the most vilified inmates in Arizona history, so the very real possibility that she is innocent may come as a surprise to some.
“At first, it was shock and disbelief, and then she was ecstatic,” Milke’s defense attorney, Michael Kimerer, told ABCNews.com. “She said, ‘Oh, I just can’t catch up with my feelings. It’s overwhelming.'”
Milke’s bond was set at a quarter of a million dollars on Thursday. Her mother, who lives in Germany, was expected to post the money. Milke, now 49, has spent two decades on Arizona’s death row. Prosecutors and the media cast her as a coldhearted and calculating murderer, but new information may prove her innocence. In December of 1989, prosecutors allege that Milke told her 4-year-old son, Christopher that he was going to see Santa Claus. Instead, Milke handed him over to two men who took him into the desert and shot him for the insurance money. Prosecutors say that Milke confessed to Detective Armando Saldate. However, he failed to record it or have it witnessed by anyone else. Milke has always denied that she confessed and maintained her innocence. New information never given to defense attorneys shows that the detective has a history of being less than honest.
In March, a federal appeals court overturned the conviction and death sentence because prosecutors didn’t tell the defense before trial about Saldate’s history of misconduct, including 8 cases in which the judge had to toss out confessions, indictments, and/or convictions because he committed perjury or violated Constitutional rights. The defense should have been allowed to see the information in order to inform the jury through cross-examination of his possible motive to lie.
“Milke’s conviction was based largely on the testimony of Police Det. Saldate, who allegedly obtained her confession,” the court wrote in its decision. “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.”
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has vowed to retry Milke, and prosecutors will seek the death penalty. The retrial is scheduled for September 30th, as required by law. Roger Scott and James Styers, the two men who killed Milke’s son, were convicted and remain on death row. Scott confessed to the crime during an interrogation and led police to the child’s body. Neither man testified at Milke’s original trial.
She was given bond after a judge ruled that there was no direct evidence linking her to her son’s death other than a purported confession to a detective whose honesty has been questioned.
The next hearing is on September 23rd.