Murder Conviction Overturned, Arizona's Debra Milke Is Freed

By: From CNN.com
By: From CNN.com


PHOENIX (CNN) -- For the first time in well over a decade -- and months since a federal judge overturned her murder conviction -- Debra Milke is free.

A short time after the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office indicated she would be leaving, video showed someone who appeared to be Milke being driven away Friday from the Lower Buckeye Jail in Phoenix. Sheriff's office spokesman Brandon Jones subsequently confirmed that Milke had been released.

Even though she's no longer behind bars -- leaving the jail without addressing reporters -- Milke's legal ordeal may not be over. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said in March that his office would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court the judge's decision to toss her conviction and the death sentence that went with it.

Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ruled this spring that Milke did not receive a fair trial. Milke still faces charges and was released on bond pending the possibility of a retrial.

Milke's legal team will at some point address the media about their client's release, though it's not known when, said one of the lawyers, Lori Voepel.

Horne's office referred requests for comment to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which is now handling the matter. The prosecutor's office is not discussing the case, its spokesman Jerry Cobb said Friday.

A jury convicted Milke of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, child abuse and kidnapping on October 12, 1990, less than a year after her 4-year-old son was found dead. She was sentenced to death a few months later.

A day after seeing Santa Claus at a mall, young Christopher Milke asked his mother if he could go again. That was the plan, she said, when the boy got into the car with Milke's roommate, James Styers.

Styers picked up a friend, "but instead of heading to the mall, the two men drove the boy out of town to a secluded ravine, where Styers shot Christopher three times in the head," according to Kozinski's summary of the case. Styers was convicted of first-degree murder in the boy's killing and sentenced to death.

During her trial, "no ... witnesses or direct evidence (linked) Milke to the crime" other than Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate Jr., according to Kozinski.

The detective questioned Milke -- an interrogation that wasn't recorded or seen by anyone else -- and later said she had confessed to her role in the murder conspiracy, saying it was a "bad judgment call."

But Milke offered a vastly different view of the interrogation and denied that she had admitted to any role in a murder plot.

"The judge and jury believed Saldate," Kozinski wrote in his March ruling overturning Milke's murder conviction. "But they didn't know about Saldate's long history of lying under oath and other misconduct."

The judge explained that he had made his decision because prosecutors did not disclose the "history of misconduct" of its key witness.

The defense and the jury did not know that previous judges had tossed out four confessions or indictments because Saldate had lied under oath, among other issues.

Horne, the Arizona attorney general, has argued Milke should remain on death row, given his understanding of what happened.

"After dressing him up and telling him he was going to the mall to see Santa Claus, Milke was convicted of sending her young son off to be shot, execution style, in a desert wash," he said.


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