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Gambino writes: "Debra Milke describes her release as 'bittersweet' after 25 years served for the murder of her son, in a case that rested on the work of disgraced detective."

Debra Milke spoke out for the first time after spending two decades on death row in the killing of her son. Her case was dismissed earlier this week. (photo: Matt York/AP)
Debra Milke spoke out for the first time after spending two decades on death row in the killing of her son. Her case was dismissed earlier this week. (photo: Matt York/AP)

Arizona Woman Cleared After 22 Years on Death Row: 'This Is Not Happiness'

By Lauren Gambino, Guardian UK

25 March 15


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Debra Milke describes her release as ‘bittersweet’ after 25 years served for the murder of her son, in a case that rested on the work of disgraced detective

n Arizona woman who spent 22 years on death row after being convicted of conspiring to murder her son in a case that rested on the work of a detective with a history of misconduct says regaining her freedom was vindicating but bittersweet.

On Monday, a judge formally dismissed murder charges against Debra Milke, ending what her lawyers called a “living nightmare” that spanned nearly half her life. After her son was found dead, the now-discredited Phoenix police detective Armando Saldate claimed Milke confessed to arranging her son’s murder, even though there was no witness or recording.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with the brutal murder of my son, Christopher, and I did not give a confession to Mr Saldate,” Milke said through tears during an emotional press conference in Phoenix on Tuesday. “I always believed this day would come. I just didn’t think it would have to take 25 years, three months and 14 days to rectify such a blatant miscarriage of justice.”

Milke was convicted of the murder of her four-year-old son Christopher in 1990 and later sentenced to death. Prosecutors argued in court that she recruited two male friends to kill her son in December 1989 so she could collect an insurance policy on him.

Saldate’s testimony was the only evidence that connected Milke to the murder. However, at the time, prosecutors did not disclose, and defense attorneys did not have access to, the detective’s personnel records, which showed a history of lying under oath and misconduct.

Milke’s conviction and death sentence were thrown out in March 2013 by the US ninth circuit court of appeals, citing “egregious prosecutorial misconduct”. In a damning ruling, federal appellate judge Alex Kozinski wrote: “The constitution requires a fair trial. This never happened in Milke’s case.”

In mid-March, Milke’s attorneys filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the city of Phoenix, Maricopa County and numerous individuals involved in the case, including Saldate. The complaint contends that Milke is a victim of “malicious prosecution”, and that authorities violated her civil rights by denying her a fair trial.

Arizona is one of several states without a statute guaranteeing those wrongfully convicted are compensated for their lost time. The Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, recommends states pass compensation statutes that guarantee fixed sum or a range of recovery for each year spent in prison, so that who are convicted are not left with nothing after their release.

In her remarks, Milke recalled her young son Christopher, who she described as a “sweet and affectionate child” who loved to make people laugh. She said his favorite toy was his Big Wheel, and he loved slamming on the brakes and spinning out. He also loved popping the bubbles she would blow with her chewing gum. She said he would giggle as it popped on her face and beg her to do it again.

“I have countless memories, precious memories, of Christopher etched in my heart and mind. No one can ever desecrate them and no one can ever take them away from me,” she said.

Then, breaking down into tears, she added: “I live with an abiding sense loss and a chunk of my heart is gone. But Christopher’s spirit is with me always, which is a comfort to the remaining pieces of my broken heart.”

Milke appeared at the press conference with her lawyers, Michael Kimerer and Lori Voepel, who commended their client for her buoyant spirit throughout the years.

“I sit here today in a state of disbelief that we’ve gotten to this point. This case has been a nightmare to Debra Milke for over 25 years,” Kimerer said. “We had tears, we had heartbreaks but we always came back because of Debra.”

Through the more than two decades of legal appeals, Milke has always maintained her innocence and consistently denied confessing to her son’s murder.

During the trial, authorities alleged that she told her son her roommate, James Styers, was taking the four-year-old to the mall to see Santa Claus, but instead took him to the desert and killed him. Styers and Roger Scott, his friend, were convicted of the boy’s murder and remain on death row. Neither testified to Milke’s involvement in the plot.

Asked if she agreed the right men were convicted in her son’s killing, Milke hesitated and deflected the question to her lawyer.

“Definitely somebody should be on death row of the two men that were there [in the desert]. One or both. And they should be there [on death row] and they should be punished for such a horrific crime,” Kimerer said.

He added later: “What really happened out there on that day? Who was really responsible? Why would this happen? Why would they want to kill this boy? There’s all kinds of different theories and concepts.”

One version, Kimerer detailed, is that Styers desired a romantic relationship with Milke, who was planning to move out and he killed her son in a desperate attempt to keep her from leaving. He noted that Styers suffered head trauma during the Vietnam war and struggled with PTSD, stemming from an incident when he killed a young Vietnamese boy.

In her closing remarks, Milke urged state lawmakers to pass a law requiring police officers to record their interrogations, so that what happened to her couldn’t happen to anyone else.

“Injustice does not discriminate. What happened to me can happen to anyone, as it has already, hundreds of times over, thus far across the country … If you don’t believe this could happen, you’re either misinformed or in a deep state of denial,” she said. Arizona is one of a majority of US states that doesn’t compel officers to record their interrogation of a suspect.

As for what she will do with her freedom, Milke said she did not yet know.

“This is bittersweet,” Milke said. “This is not happiness.” your social media marketing partner
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