By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
Soon after Sandy left town, things fell apart for Debbie. Ilse Milke learned that Debbie had underpaid her monthly car bill by $100. Ilse confronted her and covered the rest of the payment, but that wasn't the end of it.
A few days later, Ilse says, "Mark repossessed the car."
Debbie describes how this happened. "Mark took my car and he wouldn't take me home," she says. "I was with Chris and Mark ordered him back into the house, Mark's house. Christopher was crying, and finally he kicked Mark and Mark pushed him at me and said, `Take your fucking brat and get out of my life.' I didn't know what to do, so I called Jim Styers. `I'm at 19th Avenue and Bethany Home.' He was there in five minutes."
JIM STYERS PROVED to be a real coup for Debbie. She had a new place to stay, a built-in baby sitter, a cook and a chauffeur, after her new roommate agreed to drive her to and from work at her new secretarial job with the Tempe-based John Alden Life Insurance Company.
Styers was a Marine Corps veteran who had lived off disability payments since suffering head injuries in a 1971 fall from a truck in Yuma. Debbie says she got it straight with him from the start that they were going to remain platonic. But that didn't stop Styers from catering to her whims.
"I remember a couple of times when we were living together," she says. "I said, `Sometimes, Jim, you're a great friend, but sometimes you really remind me of a puppy dog. You follow me all over the place.' He said, `It's so much fun. It reminds me of being married.' And I said, `Oh God.' We used to go shopping together and he always would have dinner ready."
Debbie adds, laughing, "He tried to do my laundry, but he screwed it up and I had a fit. I thought he was good for Chris. He took him to church and they did lots of things together."
Debbie performed well at work despite the stresses of her personal life. She had taken tests at her new job with John Alden in August 1989 to determine what her bosses should expect from her.
"Once she makes a decision, she can be very organized in carrying it out," Debbie's prophetic evaluation concluded. "She likes to gather the information, but to leave the final decision to others." Her testers also noticed something about her personality that her jury would see at her murder trial a year later. "Rarely does she display her emotions. That is, she displays a good poker face."
Debbie's mom flew in from Europe that fall and bought Debbie a 1986 Toyota--the car in which Styers and Scott would drive Christopher to his death a few months later. But her new car and job couldn't keep Debbie's sagging spirits up after Ernie Sweat started fading out of her life.
Ernie liked Debbie, but her relationship with her young son troubled him, he says. Ernie recalls telling Debbie that October that she was neglecting Christopher. It bothered him the way the boy cried when he would come by her apartment to get her.
"We were friends and had been friends from the beginning," Ernie recalls, "but in some ways I felt that Debra was taking our relationship a little too seriously." In the weeks that followed, Ernie says, he instructed his roommates to tell Debbie he wasn't home, even if he was.
Debbie tries to downplay the demise of her romance with Ernie. She claims she cooled the relationship.
"We weren't in love, but Ernie and I had had a good time together," she says. "I realized I still had issues with my ex-husband and I felt really weird pulling Ernie into it. It was no big deal."
But Roger Scott later confessed to police that Debbie broached the subject of killing Christopher around the time Ernie was slipping away. Scott told police that shortly before the murder, Debbie told him "she just had to get away from [Chris] and she just wasn't cut out to be a mother, and that she wanted us to take care of it."
Scott said Debbie and Styers promised him $250 to take part in the plot. That was enough to hook this long-unemployed Phoenix native, who lived with his aged mother. (Scott was convicted of first-degree murder. He is awaiting sentencing.)
Scott told police that after a few false starts--including one time when Debbie and Styers took Christopher to a would-be murder site--he and triggerman Styers finally did Debbie's bidding in the early afternoon of December 2, 1989.
Debbie continues to proclaim her innocence. She says she had no clue what was to transpire after she last saw Christopher late that morning. "I promised him we would go pick a tree together at Metrocenter the next day," she says. "Jim and Christopher got ready to leave to go see Santa. I went outside to say goodbye to Chris. He'd always say, `See you later, alligator,' and I'd say, `After a while, crocodile.' And he'd always have to get in the last word. `See you soon, baboon.' As they were driving off, he screamed out, `I wuv you.' That's the last I saw of him."