Death Row

Debra Milke's Convictions Overturned in Son's Murder, After Two Decades on Death Row

The convictions and death sentence of Debbie Milke -- who's been on death row in Arizona for more than two decades in her son's murder -- have been overturned by a federal appeals court.

Milke's 4-year-old son, Christopher, went "missing" in December 1989 after a friend and a roommate took the boy "to see Santa" at the Metrocenter mall.

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Instead, her roommate Jim Styers and his buddy Roger Scott took the boy out to a wash near 99th Avenue and Happy Valley Road and shot him three times in the head.

Using an alleged confession from Milke that came out during an unrecorded interview with a Phoenix homicide detective, Milke was sentenced to die and is one of just three women on death row in Arizona.

As former New Times scribe Paul Rubin reported, a federal appellate panel said, "There is 'no evidence' that Milke 'voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently' waived her Miranda rights before allegedly confessing to Detective [Armando] Saldate."

(Talk about timing: The Phoenix Police Department had a little memorial Wednesday for the 50th anniversary of PPD arresting Ernesto Miranda, the man whose case eventually established the "Miranda warning.")

Rubin cited a federal court judge who said, "I don't know any place in the civilized world in the last 30 years where a state has found a waiver of constitutional rights without a signed waiver."

Although Milke's appeals have been ongoing for years, the panel threw out the convictions today, primarily citing that "the state remained unconstitutionally silent instead of disclosing information about [Detective] Saldate's history of misconduct and accompanying court orders and disciplinary action."

Alex Kozinski, chief judge for the Ninth Circuit U.S.Court of Appeals, absolutely slams the conviction of Milke, starting on page 54 of the opinion.

Prosecutors could re-try Milke, and if they choose not to (within 30 days), she'll be released from prison.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley