PHOENIX — Debra Milke, the woman who spent 22 years on Arizona’s death row only to be freed earlier this week, spoke to the media Tuesday.
A federal appeals court overturned Milke’s 1990 murder conviction in her young son’s death, ruling that prosecutors failed to disclose detective Armando Saldate’s history of misconduct.
Her full statement is below. It has not been edited in any way.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with the brutal murder of my son, Christopher, and I did not give a confession to Mr. Saldate. I always believed this day would come. I just didn’t think it would have to take 25 years, 3 months and 14 days to rectify such a blatant miscarriage of justice.
“Losing a child to murder is a devastating tragedy with an indescribable pain no parent should ever have to feel. It is the purest form of anguish imaginable that sears the soul, and the hurt never goes away, ever. The only thing equally worse is to be falsely accused of participating in your own child’s death. Someone in this room may identify with the pain of the loss of a child but I’m quite sure you don’t know what it feels like to be accused by the authorities contributing to it.
“My little son, Christopher, meant everything to me and I love him with all my heart. I miss him terribly and think about him every single day. He was such a sweet and affectionate child. He loved to be silly and make others laugh. Often, I hear his cute little laugh in my mind that instantly brings a smile to me as I remember the many hugs and kisses, his “I love you, mommy” whispers in my ear and the darling smile he had that sometimes made it hard for me to say no to him. He had many curiosities but one of his most favorite things to do was to pedal his Big Wheel as fast as he could, put on the brakes and spin out. He went through 2 Big Wheels until the motorized cars caught his attention. Yes, he had one of those but, thankfully, he couldn’t spin out with it.
“He’d get the biggest kick out of popping the bubble I’d blow with bubble gum. The bigger the bubble, the more fun it was for him. Watching it deflate on my face caused the giggles, followed by, “blow another one, mommy!”
“I have countless memories, precious memories, of Christopher that are etched in my heart and mind. No one can ever desecrate them or take them away from me. His death is a tragedy of unspeakable magnitude to me, my family, and those who loved him. He is sorely missed but never forgotten, as he will forever remain the greatest joy and blessing in my life. I live with an abiding sense of loss, and a chunk of my heart is gone but Christopher’s spirit is with me always, which is a comfort to the remaining pieces of my broken heart.
“Being falsely accused of a crime you didn’t commit is also a devastating tragedy. Try to imagine that as some of you sit in judgment of me. The prosecution against me was one of malicious nature. My innocence did not matter in their pursuit of a conviction. Honoring Christopher’s memory did not matter in their pursuit of justice. We, as U.S. citizens living under the same Constitution, deserve justice. Law enforcement officials are human and a badge or law degree does not make them moral. Some of them are corrupt but many are not. Seeking a conviction at any cost is unconscionable and is now what defines justice. The Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit Court perfectly states that “bad cops, and those who tolerate them, put all of us in an untenable position.” Injustice does not discriminate. What happened to me can happen to anyone, as it already has hundreds of times over thus far across the country. This could happen to any one of you. If you don’t believe it could happen, you’re either misinformed or in a deep state of denial.
“My legal fight pales in comparison to the immense pain in my heart and soul over the cruel death of Christopher but the unfortunate encounter with Mr. Saldate, who has a long history of lying, fabricating evidence, and violating people’s rights, left an indelible impression so traumatizing that I can still hear his life-shattering words.
“In closing, I am profoundly grateful to my awesome lawyers, Michael Kimerer and Lori Voepel, who lived and breathed my case for over a decade, working tirelessly to redress this injustice. I extend my deepest thanks to the numerous lawyers who helped to restore honor and justice for my son, Chris.
“I give my heartfelt thanks to Frankie for his years of relentless research and for being the voice for Chris and me. To Pat and Patti, thank you for believing in me and for your unconditional love and support. To my dear mother for sacrificing so very much and walking with me down this pain-filled road. To Paul for being an advocate of mine for many years, and to the thousands of people out there for their belief in me, kind sentiments and moral sense of justice. My heart is truly filled with enormous gratitude.”