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.