Prosecutors in the case against Debra Milke, who is facing retrial on charges that she had her son killed in 1989, have won an appeal that will force their star witness to testify in 2015.  Authorities allege that Debra Milke had two men kill her 4-year-old son, Christopher.  Both men are currently on death row.  A federal appeals court overturned her conviction and sentence, after she spent more than 20 years on death row, granting her a new trial.

Her case rests on a disputed confession, which now-retired detective Armando Saldate, did not record and had no one else witness.  Milke has always denied confessing and maintains her innocence.  The detective’s credibility was called into question during Milke’s successful appeal.  The federal appeals court lambasted the detective’s questionable history of lying under oath and violating suspects’ rights prompting him to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify at the retrial.  In the original trial, jurors were not allowed to hear Saldate’s history, and had to weigh his credibility without it.

The state appeals court overturned Judge Rosa Mroz’s ruling that allowed the retired detective to remain silent.  Saldate’s attorney argued that he had reason to fear prosecution for his alleged misconduct.  The federal appeals court had reported Saldate to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pheonix, Arizona and the the U.S. Department of Justice, in order for them to investigate him for civil rights violations.  The court also cautioned him against committing perjury in Milke’s retrial.  The severely controversial and discredited detective was told by all relevant agencies that they would not be prosecuting him.  This opened him up to testify in Milke’s high-profile retrial.

At issue before the appeals court was whether the letters stating that the agencies would not prosecute Saldate gave him blanket immunity.  The three-judge panel found that the letters did not guarantee Saldate immunity, but did “lend weight to the State’s position” that Saldate would not be prosecuted and thus did not need to remain silent.  The court also ruled that a person could not invoke the Fifth Amendment out of fear of perjury prosecution.

“As citizens, each of us has a duty to testify in criminal proceedings in our courts when called upon to provide relevant information,” the court wrote.

Saldate is expected to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.


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