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Death row inmate's murder case tossed after 20 years

24 March 2015, 10:18

Phoenix - A judge on Monday dismissed the murder case against an Arizona woman who spent more than 20 years on death row for the 1989 killing of her 4-year-old son.

Debra Jean Milke hugged her supporters and sobbed as she exited the Phoenix courtroom. Judge Rosa Mroz ended the case after prosecutors lost their last appeal last week.

Milke was convicted of murder in 1990 in the death of her son, Christopher. Authorities say Milke dressed him in his favourite 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.

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, which he didn't record.

The federal appeals court threw out Milke's conviction and death sentence, arguing prosecutors knew about Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate's record of misconduct but didn't disclose it. Multiple court rulings in other cases said the now-retired officer either lied under oath or violated suspects' rights during interrogations.

- AP

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