PHOENIX -- After nearly 24 years in custody, a woman who allegedly
lured her 4-year-old son to his death in the desert by telling him he
would see Santa Claus was released on bond Friday afternoon after a
judge ruled there's no direct evidence linking her to the death of her
The 49-year-old Milke has not been exonerated, but a
judge said she could go free while preparing for a new trial in a case
that made her one of Arizona's most reviled inmates.
But the prosecution has hurdles to overcome before taking Debra Milke back to trial.
A judge must decide whether a contested confession can be admitted into
evidence. And the Phoenix detective who allegedly obtained the
confession has to agree to testify.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz ruled Thursday that
Milke, 49, can be released on a secured bond of $250,000, pending her
Sheriff Joe Arpaio issued a statement Thursday afternoon
saying that Milke would likely be released some time Friday, and that
she was refusing all requests for interviews on the advice of her
At a court hearing Aug. 30, Milke's attorneys, Mike
Kimerer and Lori Voepel, told the court that Milke's supporters would be
able to put up bond money and had provided a house for her to live in
as the legal process plays out.
Milke has a strong following of people who believe she is innocent, especially in Europe, where she has family.
Kimerer said that Milke was stunned and ecstatic to learn she would be released, and that she broke down in tears.
"I'm so overwhelmed by this, I don't know how to react to it," Kimerer said she told him.
ex-husband, Arizona Milke, the father of the murdered child, said,
"She's going to get something she's wanted for a long time."
judge ordered that Milke post a secured bond, which requires that the
entire amount be put up as assurance that the defendant does not
abscond; or, if contracted through a bondsman, it would require putting
up collateral one and a half times the amount of the bond, in addition
to paying a fee. Milke must wear a monitoring device and adhere to a
Debra Milke and two accomplices, James Styers, the
suspected shooter, and Roger Scott, were sent to Arizona death row for
the December 1989 murder of Milke's son, Christopher. They told the boy
that they were taking him to see Santa Claus at the mall and instead
took him to the desert and shot him in the head.
But in March, the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out her conviction and death
sentence, because the prosecution had failed to turn over evidence about
the Phoenix police detective who claimed that Milke confessed.
denied confessing; the detective, Armando Saldate, had not recorded the
confession and there were no witnesses to confirm it took place.
Vince Imbordino asked the court to ignore the 9th Circuit decision.
Mroz said she would not. Mroz noted that the withheld evidence "casts
serious doubt on the validity of the defendant's alleged confession."
existing information does not make it 'plain and clear' ... that the
defendant committed the crimes," Mroz wrote. "The court finds that the
proof is not evident or presumption great that the defendant committed
the crimes charged in the indictment."
Whether the confession
comes into evidence will be argued on Sept. 23. The court appointed
attorney Larry Debus to represent Saldate in that hearing. Debus told The Arizona Republic that he has just begun evaluating the case and does not yet know what advice he will give to Saldate.
Saldate is under great pressure in the case. The chief judge of the 9th
Circuit asked the U.S. Attorney General's Office to investigate the
Milke case for civil-rights violations. The 9th Circuit ruling also
noted that Saldate was found by courts to have lied in various court
cases, and if his future testimony varies from those findings, he runs
the risk of committing perjury.
If Saldate invokes his Fifth Amendment rights and refuses to answer questions, the confession probably would not be allowed.
the case was first returned to Maricopa County for retrial, prosecutors
were hopeful that Milke's alleged accomplice, Scott, would testify
against her. Scott confessed to taking part in the murder in 1989, but
did not testify in Milke's first trial. Last week, Imbordino stated in
open court that Scott would probably not testify in the retrial either.
Without Saldate and without Scott, the prosecution has a weak case.
to the 9th Circuit, Milke had to be taken to trial within 90 days of
the completion of a U.S. District Court order transferring her to the
jurisdiction of the Maricopa County Attorneys Office, which is Oct. 7.
If Milke's trial did not start by that date, the 9th Circuit said, she
would have to be released from custody during her trial.
Thursday, the Arizona Attorney General's Office filed a motion in U.S.
District Court on behalf of the Maricopa County attorney to have the
trial deadline pushed back, a request that may have been rendered moot
by Mroz's ruling.