After 23 years on death row for the 1989 murder of her son, Debra Milke is now a free woman and it’s now been pretty much laid to rest that she had anything to do with this crime. She became the second woman to be exonerated from death row in the United States after becoming the first female to be sentenced to death in Arizona since 1932. FOX 10’s John Hook talks to Milke’s attorney, Michael Kimerer, who stood by her through many years going through this process.
On March 14, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit threw out Milke’s conviction, ruling that Milke did not receive a fair trial. It held that Milke’s rights had been violated by the failure to turn over Saldate’s personnel file to the defense. That file included multiple instances of misconduct, including eight cases where confessions, indictments or convictions were thrown out because Saldate either lied under oath or violated the suspects’ rights during interrogations. The court ruled that because “the prosecution did not disclose [the arresting detective] Saldate’s history of misconduct,” Arizona had violated its obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. In their opinion the Circuit Court said,
Milke’s alleged confession, as reported by [Pinal County Sheriff’s Detective] Saldate, was the only direct evidence linking Milke to the crime. But the confession was only as good as Saldate’s word, as he’s the only one who claims to have heard Milke confess and there’s no recording, written statement or any other evidence that Milke confessed. Saldate’s credibility was crucial to the state’s case against Milke. It’s hard to imagine anything more relevant to the jury’s—or the judge’s—determination whether to believe Saldate than evidence that Saldate lied under oath and trampled the constitutional rights of suspects in discharging his official duties. If even a single juror had found Saldate untrustworthy based on the documentation that he habitually lied under oath or that he took advantage of women he had in his power, there would have been at least a hung jury. Likewise, if this evidence had been disclosed, it may well have led the judge to order a new trial, enter judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, at least, impose a sentence less than death. The prosecution did its best to impugn Milke’s credibility. It wasn’t entitled, at the same time, to hide the evidence that undermined Saldate’s credibility. (p. 42)