When Margo Raczo-Miles walks out the front door in the morning, she wonders if she will be gunned down by someone hiding across the street. She checks her car for bombs and watches to make sure she's not being followed.

The 25-year-old mother of two blames Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Cheryl Hendrix, who released Margo's husband, Samuel Miles, from the Maricopa County Jail on October 3.

A month ago, Samuel was arrested for plotting to murder Margo. The official charge: Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. At the time of his arrest, Samuel had just attempted to pay an undercover cop posing as a hit man to kill Margo, court records say. The cop had been wired, and the entire "transaction" had been taped, according to police records.

On September 17, Samuel, 29, formally pleaded not guilty to the charge. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office suggested bail be set at $174,000 because of the brutality and viciousness of the crime Samuel was accused of.

A hearing was scheduled a few weeks later to determine whether Samuel should stay in jail or be released pending his trial. The day before the hearing, Margo wrote a letter to the judge begging her not to release Samuel. In the letter, which was presented to Hendrix by prosecutor Randy Wakefield, Margo said Samuel was mentally and physically violent. He was terribly upset by their upcoming divorce. She said she had stayed in the nine-year relationship "out of fear." "I fear for my life. I have not had a good night's sleep since this whole ordeal began," Margo wrote the judge. "I am the victim in this case. I pray that your honor does not release or reduce bond in this case."

The letter apparently didn't sway Hendrix. Despite the strong protests of prosecutor Wakefield, she released Samuel from jail without having to pay a penny of bail. On his own recognizance. With a warning to stay away from Margo.

Samuel is free until his December 6 trial.
"She just zipped him right out of there," says Wakefield. "She really didn't give any reasons."

Margo could not get away from her job in the American Express credit department to attend the hearing. However, she says a victims' advocate of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office attended in her place. According to the advocate, Hendrix said she wouldn't set bail because Samuel had "strong ties" to the community, Margo says. What's more, Samuel has no previous criminal record and had been an employee of American Express for twelve years. Margo also works at American Express, in a different department.

Samuel refused comment, citing the upcoming trial. "I never touched her, never laid a hand on her," Samuel said of Margo as he stepped into a court elevator. "She can't prove anything. She's just making noise."

Judge Hendrix refused to discuss her decision to release Samuel Miles. In fact, when asked the routine question in her chambers, the judge went into a tirade. She said she was "distressed," "appalled" and "upset" that she was asked to discuss a pending case. "You are asking me to violate the code of judicial ethics," she said. (That's not true. Journalists frequently ask judges to explain their rulings.)

Speaking of judicial ethics, Hendrix was censured by the Arizona Supreme Court in 1985 for violating judicial ethics by improperly meddling in the case of a convicted murderer whose cause was being championed by Hendrix's court clerk, court records say.

Hendrix was also censured by the Supreme Court in 1985 for "indecorous and impertinent comments" delivered from the bench when she theatrically presented a convicted thief a can of pork and beans. (In a rambling speech from the bench, Hendrix had told the thief she bought him a new can of beans, since he left the old can in the store while robbing it, Supreme Court records say.)

"This woman has my life in her hands," Margo Raczo-Miles says of Hendrix, who is also presiding over the Debra Milke murder case. "She has all the power and I have none. I really don't have much faith in the judicial system anymore."

"This woman has my life in her hands," Margo Raczo-Miles says of Hendrix, who is also presiding over the Debra Milke murder case. "She has all the power and I have none. I really don't have much faith in the judicial system anymore."

The judge's decision doesn't surprise Ruth Swenson, an attorney for the Domestic Violence Project of Community Legal Services. "The entire judicial system doesn't view domestic violence as a serious crime," she says. "A lot of women judges can't perceive why women don't get out of abusive situations earlier. They don't have sympathy because they wouldn't let it happen to them." "Looking at past cases, if women don't go into hiding, they're often killed," adds Swenson. "The men blame the victims for their problems. They often stalk the victims until the victim no longer exists."

Up until a few weeks ago, when Phoenix police detectives told her Samuel Miles had tried to have her assassinated, she figured her life was starting to straighten out. She had finally mustered the courage to move herself and their two sons, aged eight and five, out of the comfortable middle-class home in west Phoenix that they had shared with Samuel. She says she moved out because Samuel, known as a "very nice guy" at work, was becoming more violent and abusive at home. Margo also has a story about a can of beans. "We were unpacking groceries one day. We were arguing. I told him some day I'd be gone, that I couldn't take the fighting. He threw a can of green beans at me and told me if I ever left him, he'd kill me. I never thought he meant it."

Now, she says, "I can't hide. He knows where I work, where I live. I can't afford a bodyguard. Sometimes I want to run, sometimes I want to stay and fight. My fear is mixed with anger. `I am the victim,' I tell myself. `Why should I have to run?'

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Terry Greene

Latest Stories