Debra Jean Milke – she was sent to a women’s prison with maximum security

Yesterday, the news broke that Debra Jean Milke had been sent to a women’s prison with maximum security. Milke, who was convicted in 2014 of murdering her four-year-old son Christopher in 1989, faced a life sentence and was denied parole earlier this year.

The case captivated the country when it first surfaced 25 years ago. The Maricopa County prosecutors alleged that Milke plotted the murder with two other men and then sent her son off to be killed. At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that a police detective told Milke about an informant’s testimony implicating her in the plot before she gave her statement to authorities – but this fact did not come to light until after Milke had already been given her sentence.

The jury at Milke’s trial in 1991 presumed that this information had been provided before her statement and found her guilty of murder and other charges. However, nine years later, a major legal victory was celebrated when a judge vacated Milke’s conviction due to the detective’s failure to present evidence in the original proceedings.

Despite the setback, Maricopa County brought the case back to court and in 2014, Debra Jean Milke was once again found guilty of murder and consequently handed down a life sentence with no chance of parole. She applied for parole three times but was ultimately denied each time. Given the gravity of her conviction and sentence, it comes as no surprise then that she has now been sent to maximum security prison.

With so much going on in this story it is hard to keep track – but one thing remains clear:Debra Jean Milke will remain behind bars for the rest of her life for a crime she may or may not have committed 25 years ago.

The case of Debra Jean Milke, an Arizona woman wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of her four-year-old son, is a horrifying example of judicial injustice. Milke was ultimately exonerated by a federal appeals court in 2013, after spending 22 years in prison for a crime she did not commit.

The facts of the case are shocking and disturbing. In November 1989, Milke’s son Chris was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Milke adamantly maintained her innocence throughout the entire ordeal. She was never informed that she had a right to remain silent or to have counsel, and was questioned by police without lawyers present. During that interrogation, Milke allegedly confessed to participating in her son’s killing—a confession which she later denied as coerced and fabricated by police. Prosecutors then used this alleged confession as evidence against her in trial.

Ultimately, an Arizona jury found Milke guilty of first-degree murder in April 1990 and sentenced her to death—in spite of the fact that the only evidence presented against her was the coerced confession. Milke was sent to a women’s maximum security prison to serve out her sentence while numerous appeals were filed on her behalf—first initial state petitions that were denied between 1991 and 1992, followed by multiple habeas corpus petitions and additional direct appeals in 1997 and 2008.

Milke was on death row for three years before Arizona’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her conviction in March 2013. The appeals court found that the prosecution had suppressed evidence that would have worked in Milke’s favor, leading the court to conclude that there would have been “reasonable doubt” about her guilt if it had been disclosed at trial.

In May 2013—23 years after Chris was murdered—Sergeant Armando Saldate Jr., who took Milke’s so-called “confession” back in 1990, resigned instead of facing discipline in front of a departmental hearing board after being charged with misconduct.

There are numerous questions yet to be answered concerning how this miscarriage of justice happened, how it persisted for so long despite mounting evidence of innocence, and how many more people like Debra Jean Milke are currently behind bars convicted on the flimsy basis of discredited interrogation practices embraced by law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S.? We owe it to them to seek answers and ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

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