Debra Milke retrial in son’s death set for 2015
By Michael KieferThe Republic | azcentral.comTue Sep 24, 2013 9:21 AM
“Debra Milke walked through the hallways of Maricopa County Superior Court with the uncertain step of a sleepwalker. She pressed her back into a corner of the elevator as it filled with people, her eyes big, her expression tentative, looking, in effect, like a person who had spent the last nearly 24 years in a cell and was now walking free.
She was wearing street clothes, not prison orange or jailhouse stripes. Her hands were free of handcuffs, her legs of manacles. Her hair was combed and styled, in contrast to the bristly gray shag of her recent court appearances. She was wearing makeup and had taken off her eyeglasses, which softened the expression she had on death row.
Assuming prosecutors can salvage their case against Milke, it will be months or perhaps years before they could possibly put her back behind bars. On Monday, the judge in her case set a trial date of January 2015. But there are two hearings scheduled for December and January that could derail the case altogether.
Milke, 49, is charged with murdering her 4-year-old son, Christopher,in 1989. She was convicted of the crime in 1990, but a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction and death sentence in March because a judge had denied her defense attorneys’ request to use a former Phoenix police detective’s sordid personnel record to counter his claims that Milke confessed to him.
The court ordered that she be retried or released by Oct. 7.
Earlier this month, Judge Rosa Mroz granted her release on $250,000 bond. It was expected that she would go back to trial before the end of this year. Now that Milke is free on bond, there is no longer any immediacy in taking her to trial.
Milke was in court on Monday. Her ex-husband, Arizona Milke, Christopher’s father, sat in the front row of the gallery wearing black leather pants and an ascot, brandishing a large and ominous cane whose handle had been carved into the shape of a human skull the size of a grapefruit.
Mroz set the January 2015 trial date, as well as a Dec. 6 court hearing to determine whether Armando Saldate, the former detective who claimed Debra Milke confessed, can refuse to testify.
Milke denies confessing; there was no recording of the confession and no witnesses to corroborate that it ever took place.
Saldate has said through his attorney that he will invoke his rights under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself and refuse to testify about the confession. Mroz has said that if Saldate does not testify, the confession cannot come into evidence.
In its ruling, the 9th Circuit asked that the U.S. attorney for Arizona and the U.S. Department of Justice investigate whether Saldate violated Milke’s civil rights.
The court also noted that if Saldate were to contradict court rulings that he had committed misconduct in other cases, he could conceivably commit perjury. Under that pressure, Saldate said he would invoke his right not to incriminate himself.
But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery challenged the 9th Circuit ruling in a Sept. 13 news conference and produced a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office saying that the statute of limitations had run out on any potential charges against Saldate. Montgomery would have Mroz compel Saldate to testify and accused the defense of witness intimidation.
The news conference instead piqued Mroz’s ire, and she demanded that the prosecutor in the Milke case, Vince Imbordino, explain why she was not informed about the letter before Montgomery took it to the media.
On Monday, Mroz reprimanded Imbordino in open court, saying, “If the information is relevant enough for the press, it’s relevant enough for me. After all, we’re not trying this case in the media, we’re trying this case with me.”
Mroz also took issue with the motion that Imbordino filed last week to explain why Saldate should testify and why he had not informed the court of the letter.
“It does basically nothing for me,” Mroz said, noting that the motion did not indicate “why or why not I should not allow him to invoke the Fifth.”
She asked him to file briefs explaining why case law should make her compel testimony.
If the confession is not admitted, the prosecution could have difficulty making a case against Milke.
Mroz set the Dec. 6 date for Saldate to state whether he still intends to invoke the Fifth Amendment and said that the prosecution will bear the burden of proving why he should be compelled to testify.
Then, in the event she makes Saldate testify, Mroz set aside three days, Jan. 13-15, for hearings about whether the confession is admissible.”