The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday threw out the death sentence and murder conviction against Debra Milke, one of three women on Arizona’s Death Row.
The appeals court sent the case back to Maricopa County Superior Court for a new trial.
Milke, who turns 49 this month, was charged with first-degree murder, accused of ordering two acquaintances to kill her 4-year-old son Christopher.
According to court records and media accounts, Milke found the child to be an inconvenience in her life and asked James Styers, her roommate, to kill the boy. She dressed her son in his favorite clothes and cowboy boots and told him that he was going to Metrocenter mall to see Santa Claus. Another man, Roger Scott, drove Christopher and Styers to a pizzeria, and then to the desert near 99th Avenue and Happy Valley Road, where Styers shot the boy in the back of the head.
Milke, Styers and Scott were each sentenced to death — and all three of their cases have festered in the federal court system. Styers’ conviction and sentence are also pending before the appellate court. Scott lost his case in the 9th Circuit and is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
At issue in Milke’s case is a confession supposedly obtained by now-retired Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate.
Milke last appeared in U.S. District Court in Phoenix in January 2010, but the judge denied her relief.
But Thursday, in an opinion written by 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, the court ruled that the confession to Saldate was illegally extracted. The case was remanded to Arizona courts.