The case of Debra Milke — also a capital punishment case in Arizona — is one example. Milke had spent 22 years on death row, convicted of conspiring with two other men to kill her son. When her appeal came before Judge Kozinski in 2013, he overturned the conviction. Milke became the second woman in the United States to be exonerated from death row.
“Judge Kozinski, he saved my life,” Milke tells Stahl in this CBS Video
Milke’s conviction, Judge Kozinski decided, was a product of prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecution’s case depended on the testimony of a seasoned detective, Armando Saldate, who said Milke confessed to the crime to him — even though there was no recording, signed document, or witness to corroborate the confession. Milke said she had not.
The trial became Milke’s word against Saldate’s, and the jury believed Saldate. Milke was convicted and sentenced to death. She says she went through a dry run of her execution, even telling the warden what she wanted her last meal to be.
But her appeal attorneys discovered that Saldate’s personnel record showed instances of misconduct in other cases, including lying under oath. Kozinski says the prosecutors withheld this information from the jury, violating a rule requiring the prosecution to turn over all exculpatory evidence to the defense.
“For them to put on somebody like that when they darn well know that he has lied in other cases is unacceptable,” Judge Kozinski tells Stahl.
But while Judge Kozinski threw out Milke’s conviction, he didn’t rule on her guilt or innocence. “Milke may well be guilty, even if Saldate made up her confession out of whole cloth,” he wrote in his court opinion.
What Judge Kozinski is sure of is that the Constitution requires a fair trial. And as he wrote, “This never happened in Milke’s case…
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