Arizona Will Retry Woman for 1989 Killing

PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona will retry a woman released from Death Row in March after the 9th Circuit found she had been convicted in the murder of her little boy based on testimony of a detective with a history of misconduct.
     Debra Milke was convicted of the 1989 murder after her roommate, James Styers, and his friend, Roger Scott, agreed to take 4-year-old Christopher to the mall to see Santa Claus, but instead took him to a wash where they shot him three times in the head. Milke, now 49, was 25 at the time.
     According to the 9th Circuit ruling, Phoenix police Det. Armando Saldate claimed Milke immediately confessed to murder conspiracy when he brought her in, but he did not record the interrogation and he failed to have Milke sign a waiver of her Miranda rights.
     “Saldate’s supervisor asked him to record Milke’s interrogation, yet Saldate didn’t even take a tape recorder with him,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote. “Saldate claims that Milke refused to have the conversation recorded, but admits that he ‘basically didn’t want to record it anyway.’ And why not? Because ‘a tape recorder is an obstacle for [him] to get to the truth’ and so ‘it’s [his] practice never to use a tape recorder.’ Of course, being left with no recording is an obstacle for us to get to the truth, but Saldate tells us not to worry: ‘[The] conversation was going to be noted by me in a truthful manner, so there was really no need for tape recording.’ Right.” (Brackets in original.)
     Milke has maintained her innocence and says Saldate ignored her requests for a lawyer. There was no physical evidence linking her to the crime, and neither Scott nor Styers would testify against her.
     Milke was convicted of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, child abuse and kidnapping. Scott and Styers were both convicted of murder.
     The 60-page ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit laid out Saldate’s record, including a five-day suspension after he “took liberties” with a female motorist and lied about it to superiors. He was involved in eight cases that were dismissed or overturned because he lied under oath or violated the civil rights of detainees.
     On Wednesday the ACLU of Arizona, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of Milke in 2007, denounced the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s decision to retry the case.
     “The courts have been clear that Debra’s constitutional rights were violated,” ACLU-Arizona legal director Dan Pochoda said in a statement. “The decision by [County Attorney] Bill Montgomery to retry her is an extreme example of misuse of prosecutorial power in an apparent attempt to cover for the illegal use of such power by the County Attorney’s office during the 1990 trial.”
     The amicus brief cited numerous constitutional problems with Milke’s alleged confession.
     “(T)he state’s use of Debra Milke’s alleged confession, obtained by way of her secret, unrecorded interrogation, violated her right to counsel, her right against self incrimination, and her due process right to a fair trial,” the brief states.
     Milke was one of three women in Arizona on Death Row before her conviction was overturned. She was on Death Row for more than 20 years.

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