Debra Milke spent more than 20 years on death row for killing her 4-year-old son, but the Arizona woman may now have a second chance at freedom.
Judge Rosa Mroz of Maricopa County Superior Court freed Milke on $250,000 bond on Thursday, saying her case had no direct evidence linking her to the murder other than a police confession that has been called into question. She will now face a retrial.
Debra Milke was sent to prison in 1990 for killing her son, which prosecutors claim was part of a plan to cash in on insurance money. During the trial, prosecutors said Debra dressed up 4-year-old Christopher in his favorite outfit and told the boy he was going to the mall to meet Santa Claus. But instead prosecutors say Debra Milke handed the boy off to two men, who were later convicted of taking him into the desert and killing him.
But in recent months her case has come unraveled. A federal appeals court overturned her conviction, saying the prosecution did not disclose information that would have called into question the detective who elicited Milke’s confession.
Detective Armando Saldate Jr. told jurors at the original trial that Debra confessed to him in a closed interrogation room, but prosecutors never turned over evidence that in four other cases judges threw out confessions or indictments because Saldate lied under oath. In other cases courts found that Saldate violated a suspect’s constitutional rights.
“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 Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the court.
Debra Milke will stay in a home purchased by her supporter during the trial.
Not everyone is in her corner, however. Her ex-husband Arizona Milke said he knows his wife is responsible for Christopher’s death.
“He put on his boots and the 501 jeans I just got him for his birthday and he walked into that wash knowing he wasn’t coming out,” he said.
Maricopa County prosecutors said they plan to once again seek the death penalty against Debra Milke in the new trial.