Arizona woman Debra Milke wept and celebrated with supporters on Monday as Judge Rosa Mroz dismissed the prosecution’s last appeal and dropped the charges that caused her to spend 22 years on death row, accused of playing a role in the brutal 1989 killing of her own son. Though her conviction had originally been overturned in 2013 after a judge determined that since-retired detective Armando Saldate, who claimed that Milke confessed to the crime, had a history of lying under oath and abusing citizens’ rights while interrogating them, Monday’s dismissal formally ended her ordeal. Judge Rosa Mroz ordered that Milke’s ankle-monitoring bracelet be removed, symbolically liberating her of the last vestiges of her unjust conviction.
According to The Associated Press by way of Rare, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals wrote about Milke’s case in its 2013 decision and said, “No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence.” At issue was the fact that her conviction was based entirely on Armando Saldate’s claim that Milke confessed, which she denied.
“She was innocent. It was all based upon a police officer that just totally lied… To see her free today and totally free and exonerated, it’s an unbelievable feeling — just unbelievable,” said Michael Kimerer, an attorney on Milke’s defense team, in the above-embedded video footage by KPHO-TV.
The prosecution initially accused Milke of an insidious plot in which she allegedly dressed up her own four-year-old son in his favorite clothes, told him that he was going to see Santa Claus, and sent him to the desert with two men to be executed. Those two men were convicted of her son’s murder but would not testify against Milke.
Armando Saldate refused to testify at her retrial, fearing that federal charges might be brought against him for misconduct.
Milke has filed suit for damages against various parties including Maricopa County and the City of Phoenix claiming that her civil rights were violated, that she was not given a fair trial, and that prosecutors maliciously ignored evidence that could have exonerated her.