Debra Milke spoke publicly for the first time yesterday after more than two decades on Arizona's death row for her son's murder.
A federal court overturned Milke's conviction after finding that the state unconstitutionally withheld information about the key witness in the case, a former Phoenix cop who claimed Milke confessed to him, though he never recorded the confession.
Knowing that there are at least some people who still don't believe Milke is innocent, she stated emphatically that she didn't participate in her son Christopher's murder.
"I had absolutely nothing to do with the brutal murder of my son Christopher and i did not give a confession to [Detective Armando] Saldate," Milke said.
Christopher was murdered in December 1989 at the age of 4 after his mother's roommate, James Styers, and his friend, Roger Scott, said they were taking the boy to see Santa at the Metrocenter mall.
Scott ended up admitting to police that he went with Styers as they instead took the boy to a wash near 99th Avenue and Jomax Road, and Styers fatally shot the boy. Styers was under the impression that he would receive some of Christopher's $5,000 insurance policy.
Although Milke wasn't alleged to have been physically involved in the murder, Saldate claimed that Milke confessed to setting up the whole plot to murder Christopher.
Yet Milke insisted that she never confessed, and the state never disclosed during the trial that Saldate had a troubling record.
According to court documents, Saldate had been found to have lied or otherwise "misled" grand juries on multiple occasions, and twice interrogated suspects who were in the process of receiving medical care for severe injuries. In another incident, Saldate was disciplined for "making advances and taking liberties" with a female motorist, and lied about that, too.
Jurors knew none of this when they convicted Milke in 1990 of first-degree murder.
"I always believed this day would come," Milke said yesterday. "I just didn't think it would take 25 years, three months, and 14 days to rectify such a blatant miscarriage of justice."
The fact that some people still believe Milke is guilty seems to anger Milke and her attorneys. Lori Voepel, one of the attorneys who has been working on Milke's case for more than a decade, lashed out at people who say they have a "gut feeling" that Milke was involved.
"None of you have reviewed the evidence in this case like I have . . . my gut is far more informed than yours," Voepel said.
Even after the conviction was overturned in 2013, and Milke was released from custody, she technically was out on bond, because prosecutors still wanted to re-try Milke.
The state courts finally sorted it out last week, as the Arizona Supreme Court decided against overturning a ruling that prevents a retrial, and the charges have since been dismissed.
"I don't feel happiness," Milke said of her freedom. "It's a relief, yes."
Milke filed a lawsuit earlier this month against several local authorities for being "robbed" of 23 years of her life that she spent on death row.
Above all else, Milke said, her son was still brutally killed.
"My little son Christopher meant everything to me and I love him with all my heart," Milke said.
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