U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Debra Milke Set for Retrial in Son's Murder After Earlier 9th Cir Relief

After 22 years on death row, in March, Debra Jean Milke was granted relief by the Ninth Circuit. That relief may be short-lasting however, as earlier this week, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz set Sept. 30 as the date for her retrial, reports the Associated Press.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, are scrambling to patch together enough evidence for a conviction, especially in light of the circuit court's decision, which recapped the investigating detective's prior misconduct and lack of creditability.

Prosecutors allege that in 1989, Milke told her 4-year-old son Christopher to dress in his best outfit, as he was headed to the mall to meet Santa Claus. Instead, Milke's roommate, James Lynn Styers and his friend, Roger Mark Scott, took the child into the desert and shot him in the back of the head three times. Both men are on death row for the killing.

In his confession, Scott alleged that he was promised payment by Milke from a life insurance policy placed on the child. Scott's confession was obtained, in part, by Detective Armando Saldate, Jr.

Saldate then flew, via helicopter, to the location where Milke was staying with her family. The court opinion, in great detail, recounts the interrogation and arrest. The short version is, Saldate took Milke into a small room, alone, and over the next thirty minutes, allegedly convinced her to waive her Miranda rights, confess to the crime, detail her life history and her abusive relationship with Christopher's father, and Saldate even provided emotional support.

Unfortunately, despite his supervisor's instructions, he neglected to record the interrogation. He also destroyed his notes and forgot to have her sign a Miranda waiver.

The court noted that the prosecution's case consisted almost entirely on Saldate's testimony.

Saldate, by the way, had a bit of a checkered past. Multiple convictions had been overturned due to his dishonesty on the stand. He was also once suspended for "taking liberties" with a female motorist.

The prosecution knew about all of this and despite fundamental criminal procedure and ethics requirements, as cemented into legal history by Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. United States, they remained silent.

In addition to reversing Milke's questionable conviction, Judge Alex Kozinski, in his majority opinion and a separate concurrence, took the time to bench-slap the district court (which didn't grant habeas relief), the trial court, Saldate himself, Saldate's supervisors, and, of course, the Brady-violating Maricopa County District Attorney's Office. Above the Law has an excellent recap of the written assault.

The retrial should prove to be interesting. Despite the Ninth Circuit's description of the case as a mere "swearing match" between Saldate and Milke, the AP mentions that both Styers and Scott testified at her trial as well.

It is unknown if they will do so again, however.

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