Mother’s Death Penalty Reversal to be Appealed

Tom Horne, Arizona AG

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversal of Debra Milke’s death sentence and murder conviction in the death of her four-year-old son will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced Friday.

One day ago, the appeals court issued an opinion highly critical of the conduct of the investigating police detective in Milke’s case and the detective’s supervisors. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ordered the opinion be sent to the U.S. Attorney in Arizona to consider whether the Phoenix police conduct has violated the civil rights of local citizens.

Milke was convicted of conspiring to kill her own son Christopher more than 22 years ago.

We will be appealing this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Tom Horne, Arizona attorney general. “If the court takes the appeal, I will argue it personally as I have done in two previous cases over the past five months,” he said.

He said Milke was found guilty of arranging the killing of her own son “because he was too much of a burden and interfering with her life.”

Kozinski wrote, “This is a disturbing case. There’s no physical evidence linking Debra Milke to the crime, and she has maintained her innocence since the day she was arrested.”

The only evidence linking her to the murder of her son by two men she asked to take him to see Santa Claus in 1990 was the word of Detective Armando Saldate, Jr., “a police officer with a long history of misconduct that includes lying under oath as well as accepting sexual favors in exchange for leniency and lying about it.”

Young Christopher had asked his mother to let him see Santa Claus at the mall and she agreed to let him go with her roommate James Styers. Styers picked up a friend, Roger Scott, and instead of the mall, drove the boy to a ravine outside town where they shot him in the head. They drove to the mall and reported Christopher missing. The motive was allegedly a plot by Styers and Scott to collect social security benefits and insurance as a result of the boy’s death, according to the court.

Police began to suspect the two men almost immediately. Saldate was one of the officers questioning the two men. Scott led the officers to Christopher’s body. Scott purportedly said at some point that Milke was involved, but neither man would testify against her and the statement was excluded as hearsay at her trial.

But Saldate seized on the statement and went to question Milke. She was taken to a small room at Pinal County jail where Saldate abruptly told the 25-year-old woman her son was dead. He said he didn’t “buy” her sobbing because she had no tears, according to the opinion.

He continued to question her, without tape recording the conversation as instructed. Saldate claims Milke opened up to him within 30 minutes, waived her Miranda rights, and confessed to a murder conspiracy with the two men.

She has consistently denied involvement in the murder and said she had asked for a lawyer but was ignored. Saldate even testified he destroyed his interview notes after writing his official report. In the end, the jury believed Saldate and convicted Milke. What jurors didn’t know was Saldate’s “long history of lying under oath and other misconduct,” Kozinski said. “The state knew about this misconduct but didn’t disclose it,” despite the requirements of long-standing legal precedents. (Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. U.S.)

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