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Ex-death row inmate’s malicious prosecution claim dismissed

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An Arizona woman who spent 22 years on death row in her son’s killing before her conviction was thrown out has suffered a setback in her lawsuit that alleges she was wrongfully convicted based on a confession fabricated by a detective.

A judge on Friday dismissed part of Debra Milke’s lawsuit that alleged she was maliciously prosecuted in the 1989 death of her 4-year-old son Christopher, concluding Milke didn’t meet a requirement that her criminal case was resolved in her favor.

U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver said a federal appeals court that overturned Milke’s conviction and cast doubt about the confession never concluded that she was innocent ai??i?? and a state appeals court that ruled she couldn’t be retried had never expressed an opinion on whether it believed she committed the crime.

The judge dismissed several other legal claims by Milke, including an allegation that police fabricated evidence, but is giving her lawyers a chance to revive those claims. Milke attorney Nick Brustin declined to comment on the ruling.

Authorities say Milke dressed her son in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall in December 1989. He was then taken into the desert near Phoenix by two men and shot in the back of the head.

While Milke maintained that she is innocent, authorities say her motive was that she didn’t want the child anymore and didn’t want him to live with his father. The two men who led her child to his death were convicted of murder but refused to testify against Milke.

Nearly three years ago, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Milke’s conviction and death sentence because prosecutors failed to disclose a history of misconduct by the case’s investigator, now-retired Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate. The misconduct included four other criminal cases in which courts concluded he lied.

As a result, the purported confession obtained by the detective in the Milke case was called into question.

Milke vigorously denied that she confessed to the killing. Her comments to Saldate weren’t recorded.

Prosecutors had sought a retrial but were ultimately barred by the courts.

Milke’s lawsuit against the city of Phoenix, Maricopa County and others seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

Sharon Haynes, assistant chief counsel for the city of Phoenix, and Saldate attorney Lori Berke declined to comment on the ruling. 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