PHOENIX — Prosecutors said Friday they stand behind the testimony of a
former Phoenix police detective whose credibility has been called into question
by an appeals court that threw out the conviction of an Arizona woman in the
killing of her 4-year-old son.
Debra Milke was released last week on $250,000 bond after having spent more
than two decades on death row. Prosecutors are preparing to put her on trial
again for the 1989 murder. She was convicted in 1990 for having two men take the
little boy into the desert and shoot him in the back of the head.
A purported confession Milke made to a now-retired Phoenix police detective was
at center of her trial, but an appeals court, in reversing her conviction, has
accused the officer of misconduct, including lying under oath in previous cases.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery defended Armando Saldate on Friday,
noting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had no proof to back up its claims. His
announcement came a day after Saldate’s attorney informed the judge his client
planned to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and would
refuse to testify at Milke’s retrial.
Maricopa Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz made it clear that if Saldate doesn’t
testify at the retrial, “the confession doesn’t come in.”
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Milke’s conviction in March, citing
the prosecution’s failure in her trial to turn over evidence related to the
Saldate’s credibility, depriving her attorneys the chance to question his
truthfulness. The court also found that Milke had not waived her right to have
an attorney present during the detective’s questioning of her.
The court also asked the federal government to investigate whether Saldate’s
conduct over the years “amounts to a pattern of violating the federally
protected rights of Arizona residents.”
The appeals court noted several instances in which judges threw out confessions
or indictments because Saldate lied under oath and others in which cases were
tossed out or confessions excluded because the detective violated the suspect’s
constitutional rights. Jurors at Milke’s trial were not made aware of Saldate’s
supposed dubious past.
Montgomery said federal authorities declined to pursue charges against Saldate
based on the appeals court’s allegations because the statutes of limitations
have passed. He also said Saldate would not face state charges because he didn’t
believe the allegations leveled against the detective by the court.
Saldate’s attorney did not return calls from The Associated Press. Saldate also
has not returned messages.
He is set to appear in court Sept. 23, during which the judge wants him to
explain why he still plans to assert his Fifth Amendment right.
Milke has maintained her innocence. Authorities say she had her son,
Christopher, killed, in part, to keep him from her ex-husband. They say she
dressed the boy in his favorite outfit in December 1989, telling him he was
going to see a mall Santa Claus before handing him over to two men who took the
child into the desert and shot him three times in the back of the head. Both men
are currently on death row. Neither testified at her original trial.