Debra Milke has filed a lawsuit for being "robbed" of 23 years of her life, which she'd spent on death row for her son's murder.
Milke was released from prison in 2013 after a federal appeals court ruled that the state unconstitutionally withheld information about the key witness in the case, former Phoenix cop Armando Saldate, who claimed that Milke had confessed to the murder. In a case that depended on Saldate's testimony to put away Milke, prosecutors remained "unconstitutionally silent" about Saldate's history of misconduct as a cop.
"Exploiting the shock and horror that this news of [Christopher Milke's] death caused, Detective Saldate attempted to use his unwitnessed, unrecorded interrogation to coerce a confession," the lawsuit states. "But there was nothing for Ms. Milke to confess--she had nothing to do with her son's murder and did not know anything about it. Rather than document Ms. Milke's actual statement--that she was innocent--Saldate instead fabricated a confession. He falsely reported that Ms. Milke had confessed to arranging for her son's brutal murder. In reality, Ms.Milke said nothing of the sort; Saldate made up the inculpatory statements out of whole cloth."
Milke's 4-year-old son, Christopher, was killed in December 1989 after her 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, but 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.
Saldate testified at the trial that Milke had confessed to him, although he didn't record the confession, and Milke's denied the supposed confession.
Although a state court has prevented prosecutors from trying the case again, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has been fighting that ruling.
A panel of judges from the state appeals court wrote that they were barring a retrial because, "No lesser sanction would rehabilitate the damage done to the integrity of the justice system."
In Milke's lawsuit, her attorneys claim she never would have been incarcerated had there not been serious misconduct committed by Saldate, the Phoenix Police Department, and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
Milke is seeking monetary damages with the lawsuit.
Read the lawsuit below:
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