Jana Bommersbach2020-01-06T16:49:20+00:00

Jana Bommersbach



Jana is an acclaimed Arizona journalist, author and speaker. She has been honored with two lifetime achievement awards as “an inspiration to the state’s media community.”

Guest Column, Arizona Republic, June 16, 2019

Debra Milke is innocent. I was so wrong about her.

For a quarter century, I thought Debra Milke was a baby-killer.

I thought she got her boyfriend and his pal to kill her 4-year-old son Christopher on his way to see Santa.

Mostly, I thought she’d confessed to Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate. That was the only evidence they had against her, but it was good enough for me.

From what I read in the newspapers and saw on television, she deserved being the only woman on Arizona’s death row.

It wasn’t until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stunned us by throwing out her conviction and death sentence in 2013 that I even considered giving her a second look. I read their opinion online with my mouth agape. It was the most scathing smack down of a state’s judicial incompetence and blindness that I’d ever read.

All my journalistic bells and whistles went off. What was the real story?

I immediately contacted her attorneys and soon was at Perryville Prison visiting this infamous woman through a plexiglass partition. That was the start of a three-year investigation that astonished me.

I found that everything we know about Debra Milke is wrong.

I found that many believed her innocent from the start – including the jail psychiatrist who spent 15 months with her before her trial, and the prison counselor who begged an attorney to help free her.

I dug into public records, read everything from the trial and multiple appeals, searched the internet, talked to her supporters and those who still believed she was guilty. I interviewed her a dozen times.

I reconstructed her life up to Christopher’s death on Dec. 2, 1989. Did I find a horrible mother who hated her child? No, I found a 24-year-old single mother and son on their way to a better life.

It took years for Debra’s attorney to discover Detective Saldate was a “dirty cop” with a long history of lying. I found that by the time Debra went on trial, Arizona courts already had problems with Saldate’s veracity for seven years.

Debra had recently gotten full custody of Christopher to keep him away from his father, Mark Milke. She had a new job that promised a career, a new apartment in Tempe where they’d move after Christmas, a new day care center for Christopher, new clothes for them both stashed under the bed, and one of his Christmas presents already hidden away.

Jim Styers, on death row along with Roger Scott for killing Christopher, wasn’t Debra’s boyfriend. He was a trusted family friend who took them in when they fled from Mark Milke. Those who knew him – neighbors, family, friends, his church where he ushered – never believed he was the trigger man.

And Milke’s confession? The “confession” wasn’t taped, it wasn’t witnessed, there was no verification. Only Saldate’s word – more authoritarian than Debra’s insistence that she never confessed and he twisted her words. Several experts in interrogation have concluded the “confession” is a lie.

The Ninth Circuit was so appalled, it not only told Arizona to either give her a new trial or set her free, it asked the U.S. Attorney to investigate Saldate and his superiors for criminal activity.

Eventually, the Arizona Court of Appeals set her free, admitting it was “ashamed” and calling this case “a severe stain on the Arizona justice system.” By then, it was 2015 and Arizona had stolen half her life.

That’s just the start. There’s so much more to this disgusting case of injustice.

Today, Debra Milke has a job and a dog. She speaks at conferences with other exonerees – innocents who faced the death penalty. Because Arizona doesn’t compensate those they’ve unfairly imprisoned, she’s suing for what they took from her: 25 years, 3 months and 14 days.

So after a quarter century thinking Debra Milke was a baby-killer, I have to say this – I have never been so wrong.

Jana Bommersbach is the author of “A Stolen Life, The Debra Milke Story.” It is her seventh book.

Changing Hand Bookstore
300 W. Camelback Rd. Phoenix, AZ  85013

Click Here to Order Your Book!

Click Here To Order from Amazon




This is how it begins:  Debra Jean Milke was watching a travelogue on her thirteen-inch television when they came to rehearse her execution.

Chapter 3 begins: The first words Detective Armando Saldate ever spoke to Debra Milke were, “We found your son.  He was murdered and you’re under arrest.”  Before he asked her a single question, before she supposedly uttered a word of guilt, he announced she was under arrest.  He’d later deny his intent, testifying he only decided to arrest her when she “feigned emotions” over her son’s death, and then freely, with great relief to get it off her chest, “confessed.”  But that’s not what happened. 

From Chapter 8: Private investigator Paul Heubl was the first one to see Debra Milke after her arrest, finding her confused on why she was in jail.  He’ll never forget her shock when he told her she’d confessed to killing her son  “Confessed?  I didn’t confess.  I didn’t do anything!” He left the jail convince she was telling the truth.

Everything is hard in prison  Everything is cold.  You walk into a prison in Arizona and you know you’re someplace you’re not supposed to be, never want to be.

From Chapter 8: Nobody has known until now that Debra Milke had a champion inside the prison–a counselor who put his job on the line to help her. Jana found him and he told her how he knew Debra was innocent.

From Chapter 9: Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts has written several scathing pieces about Debra Milke–especially over letters between her and Jim Styers while they awaited trial. She describes what she calls the “grieving mommy act.” This chapter is devoted to reprinting all the jail letters, so readers can see for themselves the story they really tell.

Ted Simons of the PBS current affairs program, HORIZON, interviewed Jana live on CHANNEL 8 about her new book,


Thank you so much for coming on our show this morning. Your book and research is fascinating!

 Inspirational  Keynote Speaker, Journalist and Author


Jana Bommersbach is one of Arizona’s most acclaimed journalists. The Arizona Press Club honored her lifetime of achievement with its highest honor–The Distinguished Service Award. The Society of Professional Journalists inducted her into the ORDER OF THE SILVER KEY as an “inspiration to the state’s media community.” She has been Arizona Journalist of the Year and twice was recognized as the nation’s top city magazine columnist. Jana is also a communications expert who has won accolades in every phase of her career: journalist, author, broadcaster and speaker.

Sex Trafficking
Jana’s two-year investigation into the world of sex trafficking for her book, thedeadgirlinthevacantlot, left her horrified. The FBI says 100,000 children a year are being sold as sex slaves the the United States of America. Congress says most of them were being sold on an internet site called Backpage.com. The compelling book takes readers inside this world in a very personal way – through teenagers forced into sex slavery; through a tenacious female reporter determined to save them, and through the men who sell them. Jana tells how it all came together – and what’s happening in the real world in real time – in a speech that informs, enlightens and awakens audiences to a problem most don’t even realize is in their own backyard.

Western Women
Women are invisible in western history—their incredible accomplishments buried. History gorges itself on gunfighters and goons, but stays silent on heroic and hell-raising women. So Jana opened her mouth to tell their stories. North America’s first professional female athletes came out of the west; the first female politicians in the nation came out of the west; the first women with full voting rights came from the west—decades before the 19th Amendment. It’s time history was corrected and Jana’s the one to do it!

Arizona Politics
It’s almost a miracle that Arizona was admitted to the Union. Nobody wanted her. It wasn’t until February 14, 1912—50 years after Arizona was named a Territory—that she became the 48th and last contiguous state. There were some good reasons for that anguish and some disgusting excuses, just as today’s politics befuddle and disgust America time and again. Jana has covered Arizona politics for almost five decades, and has studied its earliest history to try and understand this wild and wicked place.

Keynote Speaking

Jana Bommersbach has given thousands of speeches over her career, on everything from her book on Winnie Ruth Judd, to the problems of domestic violence, to politics to overcoming the problems of communicating.
She is direct, pithy, funny, engaging, entertaining and informative.

Keynote Speaking

Jana Bommersbach has given thousands of speeches over her career, on everything from her book on Winnie Ruth Judd, to the problems of domestic violence, to politics to overcoming the problems of communicating.
She is direct, pithy, funny, engaging, entertaining and informative.



Jana’s journalistic experience covers the entire range, from print to broadcast journalism. She’s watched the profession change and evolve and provides insights into a journalist’s mind and what’s wrong with the profession today.


Jana’s journalistic experience covers the entire range, from print to broadcast journalism. She’s watched the profession change and evolve and provides insights into a journalist’s mind and what’s wrong with the profession today.


Trunk Murderess - Winnie Ruth Judd
Bones In The Desert
Cattle Kate
A Squirrels Story,



News Flash

and Up Coming Events

Jana In North Dakota

Jana will be speaking about her writing career and signing books from 2 to 5 P.M. on Thursday, July 18 at the Public Library in Jamestown, North Dakota. Refreshments will be served.


Jana is now a member of the popular AZ SPEAKS program of the Arizona Humanities Council. She travels throughout Arizona speaking on women and history at libraries and civic groups.  All her speeches are free and open to the public.

Read More

Jana on KAET’s Horizon Show discussing her historical novel, Cattle Kate, 2014

Interviews with Jana

Sex Trafficking
In researching her newest book, thedeadgirlinthevacantlot, Jana spent two years digging into the deepest corners in the world of sex trafficking. The book brings that world into focus in a most personal way–teen-aged girls forced into sex slavery; a kick-ass investigative reporter convinced she can save them, and the men who sell them.
Watch (Author Spotlight) with Jana Bommersbach.

Jana discusses her explosive new book on sex trafficking, thedeadgirlinthevacantlot,
in this Author Webinar taped July 9, 2018.  Enjoy!!

This explosive Mike O’Neill Show on KTAR radio was so popular, it ran twice. While Jana discusses her new book, thedeadgirlinthevacantlot, guest Francine Haradway defends the man behind Backpage.com–Michael Lacey, currently under house arrest and facing multiple charges of facilitating sex trafficking. The show was taped in June, 2018.

KTAR’s Mike O’Neil Show with Jana and Francine Hardaway

Latest From The Blog

Jana’s Reviews

Jana’s WILD WILD WILD, Wonderful and Crazy Arizona says it all! Her look at Arizona from its time as a territory that supported a woman’s right to vote to the Arizona of today showed us that Arizona continues to be a wild, wonderful and crazy place to live. She weaves a funny and engaging history of our Arizona – the place we all choose to live, work and play! Thank you, Jana, for being our state convention dinner speaker!
Robyn Prud'homme-Bauer, League of Women Voters of Arizona
“You were outstanding,” Speech on getting involved in your community
Arizona's Corporate Volunteer Council
“We’ve never had such a response…” after a speech on Winnie Ruth Judd.
Mary Maier, Maricopa County Library
“Jana always excels. As a key-note speaker or Mistress of Ceremony, Jana connects with her audiences on a very personal level.”
Paula Cullison, Arizona Women's Partnership that gave Jana its 2009 Humanitarian Award
“We are thrilled to feature Jana as a speaker/author/journalist at Arizona Historical Society museums around the state. She is an asset to Arizona’s past, present and future.”
Society Educator, Megan Gately
“Your presentation was riveting….”
Domestic Violence Conference, Mesa Community College, Mesa, Arizona.
“Jana is a dynamo. She speaks about writing from experience, with clarity, wit and about as much energy as a room can hold….”
Peter Turchi, Director of Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Arizona State University
“Jana’s passion for delving into the truth comes through in each word she speaks. Your attention is held as she unwraps the stories, layer by layer..”
Cindi Reiss, President, Phoenix Writers Club
“Chico State loves you…what a great speaker, role model, inspiring career adviser you are.”
After guest lecturing for a week at the California college
More Reviews
Click Here To Book Jana for your Next Event!