Debra Milke was 26 years old when she was sentenced to Arizona’s death row in 1991, for masterminding the murder of her 4-year-old son, Christopher Conan Milke. Today, she is 49.
In May 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Milke’s conviction and ordered that she be granted a new trial or set free. The DA has decided to re-try her, and her new trial is set for September 30. According to a federal court order, she has to be tried by Oct. 7 or she will be set free.
Milke will be in court again this afternoon, seeking to disqualify the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office from the case, claiming that they are pursuing the retrial purely for political reasons.
The case against against Debra
Milke is accused of masterminding the murder of her son, Christopher, with two other people. Her old roommate, James Styers, is believed to be the one who shot the boy in the back of his head and then left his body in a desert. A friend of Styers, Roger Scott, confessed to police that he was with Styers when Christopher was killed. Scott ultimately led police to Christopher’s body, and then allegedly implicated Milke as the mastermind of the plot. He refused to testify against her at her original trial.
The DA also brought forth a confession allegedly made by Debra herself to one of the lead detectives, and alas, Debra was convicted.
Why the case was overturned
Milke has quite a support group online of people who believe that she was wrongfully convicted, and some of their reasoning is quite compelling (although I don’t know if I’m ready to say she’s innocent).
Take the lead detective in the case, for example. Armando Saldate was a Phoenix police detective who testified at her trial that Milke had confessed details of the murder to him, but he did not record it and there were no witnesses. Milke staunchly denied the fact that she had ever confessed, and years after she was found guilty, Saldate’s credibility came into serious question.
In May 2013, The 9th Circuit Court ruled that due to Saldate’s history of lying under oath, Milke’s conviction should be overturned. Judge Alex Kozinski wrote,
This is a disturbing case. There’s no physical evidence linking Debra Milke to the crime, and she has maintained her innocence since the day she was arrested. Neither of the men who actually did the killing testified against Milke. Roger Scott refused to testify because his “testimony would not be what he felt was the truth.” After spending many years on death row, James Styers continued to insist that “Debbie had nothing to do with it and thats [sic] the truth.” The only evidence linking Milke to the murder of her son is the word of Detective Armando Saldate, Jr.—a police officer with a long history of misconduct that includes lying under oath as well as accepting sexual favors in exchange for leniency and lying about it.
A hearing on whether the confession she allegedly gave to Saldate will be allowed at the retrial and whether Milke will be let out on bail has been set for August 30.
Both Styers and Rogers are still on death row.
There’s a ton of info online about this case, if you’re interested in doing more research. I included some good links below. Also below is a picture of sweet little Christopher Conan Milke, the victim of such senseless violence.
UPDATE: 9/10 4:17 PM
Debra has been released from custody while she awaits her new trial. She is reportedly staying in a home in the Phoenix area, which was purchased by supporters.