A death row inmate’s convictions were overturned by a federal appeals court on Thursday, paving the way to let her walk free.
The inmate, Debra Jean Milke, was sentenced to death for the notorious killing of her four-year-old son in 1989. The judges in the case ruled that the trial was tainted by a detective who had a history of lying under oath.
The ruling in Milke’s favor is a very surprising turn in a case that came into the national spotlight. Prosecutors claimed that Milke dressed her son Christopher in his favorite outfit and told him they were going to visit Santa Claus at a mall.
Instead, she allowed her boyfriend and another man to take him into the Arizona desert and shoot him in the back of the head. The apparent motive was a $5,000 life insurance policy. Milke, her boyfriend, and the other man were all charged in Christopher’s murder.
With the conviction overturned, the death row inmate may not become the first woman executed by the state of Arizona since the 1930s. Three judges from the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals made their decision on Thursday, saying that the prosecution declined to disclose important information about former Detective Armando Saldate Jr., who was accused of violating suspects’ Miranda rights and lying under oath.
In the decision, Chief Justice Alex Kozinski wrote, “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.”
During the trial of Debra Jean Milke, the former detective testified that Milke confessed to the crime. However, the confession was not taped. Milke repeatedly denied that she had confessed to the murder of her son. The court ruling cited eight times that judges threw out confessions, indictments, and convictions because of Saldate.
Now that death row inmate Debra Jean Milke’s convictions have been overturned, the prosecution is required to turn over all information that wasn’t disclosed during the original trial. After that, they will have 30 days to decide whether they will retry her. If they don’t, Milke will be released from prison.