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Arizona woman’s death row convictions overturned

A federal appeals court on Thursday threw out the convictions of a woman on Arizona’s death row who was found guilty of murder in the 1989 killing of her 4-year-old son, who was shot in the back of the head so the defendants could collect a life insurance policy.

Debra Jean Milke has been on death row for more than 22 years after being convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in the killing of her son Christopher. Prosecutors say she sent the boy to his death by telling him he was going to see Santa Claus. Instead, he was taken into the desert by two men and shot three times in the back of the head.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the prosecution failed to disclose information about a history of misconduct by a detective who testified that Milke confessed to plotting her son’s murder.

“Some of the misconduct wasn’t disclosed until the case came to federal court and, even today, some evidence relevant to (the detective’s) credibility hasn’t been produced,” the ruling said. “In the balance hangs the life of Milke, who has been on Arizona’s death row for 22 years.”

The ruling reversed a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling and ordered the lower court to require Arizona authorities to turn over all relevant personnel records for the detective.

Once the material is produced and defense lawyers have time to review it, prosecutors will have 30 days to retry her. If they don’t, she will be released from prison.

Prosecutors had yet to read the ruling and had no immediate comment on the decision. Milke’s defense lawyer was also unavailable for comment.

Milke, 48, is one of three women on death row in Arizona.

5 comments

  1. Macumber spent 40 years in Arizona prisons, claimed his innocence. Read his book “Manifest Injustice” to learn Arizona’s shameful history of justice and the prisons.

    Then there was Ray Krone and innocent man who was sentenced to death row and spent almost 20 years in prison. Exonerated 10 years ago. And Arizona hasn’t had any exonerations since? After the ongoing abuse of power in the Maricopa County Attorney’s office? Disgraced, disbarred ex-Maricopa County Andrew Thomas and his disbarred “chief charging” prosecutor, ex-DCA Lisa Aubuchon — bragged about their over 200,000 FELONY CASES. Not investigated by MCAO Bill Montgomery for those inmates who are innocent or wrongfully convicted and wrongfully imprisoned? This demands investigation like other DA’s / County Attorney’s have done across the nation.

    It’s time Arizona faces its poorly written laws and draconian mandatory minimum sentencing used by prosecutors as weapons for “easy” convictions. Where the prosecutors, not the judges, control the courtroom and the justice system.

    The prosecutors wield the most power in the state, with no oversight, no accountability and operate with absolute immunity. No checks and balances. How is this a fair and balanced justice system?

    Precedent set by cases “rubber-stamped” through the state courts for years. There is no Appeals process if the COA never bothers to read the Appeals briefs. Years of lives wasted, millions of $$’s wasted as the lawyers / courts churn the cases for $$$’s, knowing they were simply “rubber-stamp” “denied”.

    After 22 years, now comes along, Debra Milke, through the well-established established broken system. Many of the same prosecutors, judges, lawyers and those responsible for her wrongful conviction — still in the system.

    Time for those in this flawed system to take responsibility to “right the wrongs”, stop churning the cases with taxpayers’ $$$’s and send Debra Milke home. Her case is the tip of the iceberg and that’s why they want her voice silenced and the lid shut tightly on Arizona’s shameful Pandora’s Box.

    The state cannot continue to build prisons to hide their mistakes, incompetence and overzealous prosecutions for $$$’s making lawyers and the prison profiteers, obscenely rich at the peoples’ expense.

  2. Doesn’t this, once again, point out one of the critical reasons why the death penalty should be abolished? It should be abolished not because of soft-headed sentiment, but because of the grave possibility of misconduct by the state and/or its agents with their vast powers to convict persons with tainted or invented evidence.

    What is not mentioned in this article is that the Ninth Circuit panel who reviewed and reversed this case also ordered that there should be a possible investigation of STATE OFFICIALS — anyone involved in this case — for misconduct.

    Prosecutors throughout the state will claim that the Milke case is a fluke, and that the “system” works because the case was (ultimately) reversed, but at what cost to Milke? To the credibility of Arizona’s justice system?

  3. Macumber spent 40 years in Arizona prisons, claimed his innocence. Read his book “Manifest Injustice” to learn Arizona’s shameful history of justice and the prisons.

    Then there was Ray Krone and innocent man who was sentenced to death row and spent almost 20 years in prison. Exonerated 10 years ago. And Arizona hasn’t had any exonerations since? After the ongoing abuse of power in the Maricopa County Attorney’s office? Disgraced, disbarred ex-Maricopa County Andrew Thomas and his disbarred “chief charging” prosecutor, ex-DCA Lisa Aubuchon — bragged about their over 200,000 FELONY CASES. Not investigated by MCAO Bill Montgomery for those inmates who are innocent or wrongfully convicted and wrongfully imprisoned? This demands investigation like other DA’s / County Attorney’s have done across the nation.

    It’s time Arizona faces its poorly written laws and draconian mandatory minimum sentencing used by prosecutors as weapons for “easy” convictions. Where the prosecutors, not the judges, control the courtroom and the justice system.

    The prosecutors wield the most power in the state, with no oversight, no accountability and operate with absolute immunity. No checks and balances. How is this a fair and balanced justice system?

    Precedent set by cases “rubber-stamped” through the state courts for years. There is no Appeals process if the COA never bothers to read the Appeals briefs. Years of lives wasted, millions of $$’s wasted as the lawyers / courts churn the cases for $$$’s, knowing they were simply “rubber-stamp” “denied”.

    After 22 years, now comes along, Debra Milke, through the well-established established broken system. Many of the same prosecutors, judges, lawyers and those responsible for her wrongful conviction — still in the system.

    Time for those in this flawed system to take responsibility to “right the wrongs”, stop churning the cases with taxpayers’ $$$’s and send Debra Milke home. Her case is the tip of the iceberg and that’s why they want her voice silenced and the lid shut tightly on Arizona’s shameful Pandora’s Box.

    The state cannot continue to build prisons to hide their mistakes, incompetence and overzealous prosecutions for $$$’s making lawyers and the prison profiteers, obscenely rich at the peoples’ expense.

  4. Donna Hamm, Thank you for your well-informed comment. What the public needs to know.

  5. Debra Milke Motion to remove MCAO

    http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/kpho/KPHO NEWS/milkemotion.pdf

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