In 1990, Debra Milke was convicted of having her son murdered in 1989 in a desert outside of Phoenix. Milke allegedly had two men shoot her son, who was 4 years old at the time. After spending more than 20 years in prison on death row, Milke’s conviction was overturned by the Arizona Court of Appeals. Milke is schedule to be retried on the murder charge in 2015, and is now free on bond.
Milke has maintained the entire time that she is innocent, however at the original trial a police detective, Armando Saldate who is now retired, testified that Milke had confessed the murder to him. Saldate failed to record the confession, so jurors found Milke guilty of the murder based on Saldate’s allegations. According to news articles, there was no evidence against Milke other than the detective’s testimony that she confessed to the crime, which she adamantly denies.
Now, prosecutors in the case are asking the state Court of Appeals to reverse a ruling made by Judge Rosa Mroz, who granted the police detective’s request not to testify at Milke’s retrial based on his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Prosecutors want the appeals judges to force Saldate to take the stand at Milke’s 2015 retrial. Saldate fears that he will face charges in the future, as he claims the prosecution has offered no guarantee that charges would not be brought against him if he were to testify at Milke’s retrial.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in overturning the defendant’s conviction that prosecutors did not reveal evidence or share with defense attorneys evidence that could have challenged Saldate’s credibility. The appeals court cited various instances in which Saldate had violated suspects’ rights and lied under oath, details which Milke’s defense attorneys at her original murder trial were not aware of.
Ultimately, if the appeals court does not force Saldate to testify at Milke’s retrial, the prosecution will have no case against the defendant, as Milke’s alleged confession would likely not be allowed. The defendant’s attorneys maintain that their client’s alleged confession to Saldate is the only evidence that directly links her to the crimes. They are seeking to have the entire case against Milke dismissed.
Criminal appeals attorneys know that even when a conviction is overturned by a state appeals court there is no guarantee that the state won’t attempt to retry the defendant. Having a conviction overturned in a murder case is quite a rarity, and requires the legal support and guidance of a seasoned lawyer who is skilled and knowledgeable in the appeals process.
Choosing a capable appeals law firm is critical to the desired outcome when appealing a sentence or conviction, however even with the best lawyer there is no guarantee. Defendants who wish to challenge sentencing or who feel they have been wrongfully convicted must choose an attorney who is aggressive, dedicated, and who has a proven track record for success in appellate matters.