Debra Jean Milke, who was scheduled to be released from prison after serving 22 years for the murder of her son, now faces a new trial in Arizona. Prosecutors say they will attempt to put Milke back on death row.
The State of Arizona was given an ultimatum: set Milke free or hold her for a new trial, and the state decided to keep Milke behind bars and retry her. Milke's murder conviction was overturned by a judge after it was brought to attention that testimony from Detective Armando Saldate, who claimed that Milke confessed to the murder of her son, was tainted.
Saldate "had a long history of trampling the rights of suspects," Chief Justice Alex Kozinski said. "No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence."
Milke was convicted of murdering her 4-year-old son in 1989. She reportedly dressed him up in his favorite outfit and told him that he was going to see Santa Claus. Instead, Milke's boyfriend and another man took the child into the desert and shot him three times in the back of the head, which they claimed was arranged by Milke to collect a $50,000 life insurance policy.
She was sentenced to the death penalty and would have been the first woman executed in Arizona since the 1930s, but in 1997 Milke began appealing to the federal government. A three-judge panel ruled that the conviction could not stand because of the possible tainted testimony.
That was enough to possibly set Milke free, though the State of Arizona was not pleased.
"If she walks, it's a travesty of justice," former county attorney Rick Romley told KPHO-TV. "You just can't get around that."
"Our main concern is the fact that I have a client that never confessed and a police detective who said she gave a confession," Milke's lawyer Michael Kimerer said in 2009. "There was no tape recorder, no witnesses, nothing. Just his [Saldate's] word."
"The County Attorney has said publicly that his office was preparing to retry the case and today's notices confirm that officially with the court," Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for attorney Bill Montgomery told azcentral.com.
Milke's attorney will ask for bond after she is transferred to the Maricopa County Jail.