Death Row Inmate Debra Jean Milke Has 1990 Murder Conviction Overturned

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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On Thursday a federal appeals court threw out the convictions of a death row inmate charged in the 1989 murder of her 4-year-old son, citing evidence tainted by a detective with a history of lying under oath.

German-born Debra Jean Milke, 49, was convicted of killing her son in October 1990. Prosecutors claimed Milke dressed her son Christopher up in his favorite outfit, telling him they were going to the mall to see Santa Claus.

Instead 4-year-old Christopher was taken to the desert by Milke’s boyfriend and another man and shot three time in the back of the head. Prosecutors called it an attempt to collect a $50,000 life insurance policy.

A three-judge panel of the 9th District Circuit of Appeals ruled Thursday that the prosecution failed to disclose that a detective who testified that Milke confessed to plotting the murder had a history of misconduct. There were no other witnesses nor any recording of the alleged confession.

Multiple court rulings found former Detective Armando Saldate, Jr., either lied under oath or violated suspects' Miranda rights during interrogations. Prosecutors are required to supply the defendant’s lawyers with any evidence that could lead to a verdict of not guilty.

"No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence, quite possibly tainted by dishonesty or overzealousness, to decide whether to take someone's life or liberty," Chief Justice Alex Kozinski wrote in the decision.

The trial amounted to "a swearing contest,” Kozinski wrote, where the judge and jury ultimately decided to believe the detective over Milke without any knowledge of his mendacious past.

The ruling Thursday reversed the ruling of a U.S. District Court judge and ordered the lower court to require Arizona authorities turn over all relevant personnel files on Det. Saldate. After the material is turned over, Maricopa Country prosecutors have 30 days to decide if they will retry Milke.

The Arizona Attorney General’s office says it is reviewing the case and is likely to file an appeal.

Source: Huffington Post