Debra Milke spent 22 years on death row for a crime she insists she did not commit. On Thursday, the Arizona Court of Appeals ordered a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to dismiss all charges without prejudice. Therefore, the case cannot be reopened or retried at a later date.
In 1990, Debra Milke was found guilty in the first-degree murder of her 4-year-old son, Christopher. Although she was not accused of directly harming her child, authorities believe she arranged Christopher’s kidnapping and death.
As reported by BBC News, Milke convinced her son that her friends, Roger Scott and Jim Styers, were taking him to the mall to see Santa Claus. She then dressed the boy in his favorite outfit and sent him out the door.
Hours later, Milke contacted authorities to report her son missing. In her original report, she said Christopher went missing from the mall.
Authorities questioned Milke, Scott, and Styers about the boy’s disappearance. Although they initially denied any wrongdoing, Styers eventually confessed that he and Scott drove Christopher into the desert and shot him in the head.
Even more disturbing, Styers stated that Christopher was killed per his mother’s request. As reported by AZ Central, Milke later confirmed Styers’ story. All three were eventually arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Although Debra Milke reportedly confessed to Detective Armando Saldate that she arranging her son’s kidnapping and death, the interrogation was not recorded. The prosecution’s case was further hampered, as Scott and Styers refused to testify about Milke’s involvement in Christopher’s murder.
Despite the lack of solid evidence, Milke was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Although she vehemently denied the charges, Milke spent 22 years on death row.
In 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the prosecution withheld vital evidence during Milke’s original trial. As stated in the appeal, Detective Armando Saldate had a record of misconduct, which included lying under oath.
The appeals court determined that Saldate’s personnel records, which were withheld from the defense, could have affected the outcome of Milke’s trial. Citing a “Brady violation,” the court ordered a retrial.
Milke’s defense team later filed a motion to dismiss the charges, as their client was subjected to “egregious prosecutorial misconduct.” On Thursday, the Arizona Court of Appeals granted their request.
Although the appeals court did not discuss their “opinion regarding her actual guilt or innocence,” Debra Milke’s nightmare is over.
[Image via ABC News]