After 22 years on death row, woman sees murder case tossed

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After 22 Years On Death Row, Woman Sees Murder Case Tossed

PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona woman who spent more than two decades on death row in her 4-year-old son's killing saw her murder charge dismissed Monday, bringing an end to a controversial case that relied almost entirely on the work of a detective with a long history of misconduct.

Debra Milke hugged her supporters and sobbed as she left the courtroom, where a judge formally dismissed the case, saying it cannot be tried again, less than a week after prosecutors lost their final appeal. In a brief hearing, Judge Rosa Mroz also allowed Milke, who has been free on bond since 2013, to have her electronic-monitoring ankle bracelet removed.

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After 22 years on death row, woman sees murder case tossed
FILE - These undated combo images provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows Debra Jean Milke, convicted for plotting the murder of her 4-year-old son, Christopher, in December 1989. Lawyers for Milke, an Arizona woman who spent more than two decades on death row before having her conviction overturned want a judge to bar a retrial in her son's 1989 killing on grounds that it amounts to double jeopardy. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Arizona Department of Corrections, file)
Debra Jean Milke, left, sits next to one of her attorneys during a hearing as she awaits a retrial in the 1989 shooting death of her 4-year-old son, Christopher, at Maricopa County Superior Court on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Phoenix. A recent federal appeals court ruling threw out her conviction and death sentence, after a jury convicted her in 1990 in the killing of her son. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
**ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, OCT. 18** Debra Jean Milke, who has been on Arizona's death row for nearly 20 years for plotting her 4-year-old son's murder, is seen in this undated photo taken from the Arizona Department of Corrections Web site. Milke could get a new trial, and even her freedom, because the police detective skipped one of the most basic steps when officers interview suspects _ getting them to sign a "Miranda waiver" giving up their right to remain silent. (AP Photo/Arizona Department of Corrections)
Arizona Mark Milke, foreground, sits in the courtroom, as his former wife, Debra Jean Milke, top background, listens as a judge speaks during a hearing while she awaits a retrial in the 1989 shooting death of their 4-year-old son, Christopher, at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. A recent federal appeals court ruling threw out her conviction and death sentence, after a jury convicted her in 1990 in the killing of her son. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2013 file pool photo, Debra Jean Milke listens to a judge during a hearing as she awaits a retrial in the 1989 shooting death of her 4-year-old son, Christopher, at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix. Arguments set for Wednesday, April 9, 2014 before the state Court of Appeals could determine the outcome of the case against Milke, whose 1990 conviction in the killing of her young son was overturned after she had spent more than two decades on death row. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery speaks during a news conference regarding the status of the State of Arizona v. Debra Jean Milke murder retrial, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to overturn her conviction, and one day after it was disclosed that now-retired Phoenix police detective Armando Saldate Jr. plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not testify in a retrial, on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2013, file photo, Debra Jean Milke, convicted in the 1989 shooting death of her 4-year-old son for an insurance payout, arrives for a hearing at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix. Milke, who spent more than two decades on death row, was released on bond on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, with a judge saying there's no direct evidence linking her to her son's death other than a purported confession to a detective. The state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, April 17, 2014 that former Phoenix Police Department detective Armando Saldate Jr. will be forced to testify at the Milke retrial after he asserted his right against self-incrimination and had been refusing the take the stand again. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
Debra Jean Milke, left, speaks with one of her attorneys during a hearing as awaits a retrial in the 1989 shooting death of her 4-year-old son, Christopher, at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. A recent federal appeals court ruling threw out her conviction and death sentence, after a jury convicted her in 1990 in the killing of her son. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
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Milke emerged from a conference room a short time later without the device.

"It feels good," Milke said, pulling up one pant leg to show her unencumbered ankle.

Milke was convicted of murder in 1990 in the death of her son, Christopher. Authorities say Milke dressed him in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall in December 1989. He was then taken to the desert near Phoenix by two men, one of whom was Milke's roommate, and shot in the back of the head.

Authorities say Milke's motive was that she didn't want the child anymore and didn't want him to live with his father. Milke has maintained her innocence and denied that she confessed to the killing. The two men who led her child to his death were convicted of murder but refused to testify against Milke.

An appeals court overturned Milke's conviction in 2013, ruling that prosecutors failed to disclose a detective's history of misconduct. Her conviction was based entirely on a confession Milke gave to the now-discredited detective, Armando Saldate.

Multiple rulings in other cases said the now-retired officer either lied under oath or violated suspects' rights during interrogations, according to the federal appeals court.

In a scathing 2013 opinion, that court leveled harsh criticism over the case.

"No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence," the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

Michael Kimerer, one of Milke's attorneys, said Monday that he was still in disbelief that "a long, long journey with so many ups and downs" ended with his client's freedom.

"She was innocent. It was all based upon a police officer that just totally lied," Kimerer said outside court. "To see her free today and totally free and exonerated, it's an unbelievable feeling - just unbelievable."

Saldate had said he would not testify at any retrial, citing fears of potential federal charges based on the 9th Circuit's accusations of misconduct. Both county and federal authorities said they did not intend to seek charges against the detective based on the accusations, and a state appeals court later ruled that Saldate would be compelled to testify even against his will.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery last week called the decision not to let the case be retried "a dark day for Arizona's criminal justice system."

Milke sued the city of Phoenix, Maricopa County and numerous individuals earlier this month, alleging authorities violated her civil rights. She also contends she was denied a fair trial and was a victim of malicious prosecution.

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