Judge: Mother confessed to involvement in son's murder voluntarily

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Debra Milke By Catherine Holland Debra Milke By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- A federal judge has ruled that a mother who is sitting on death row after confessing to her involvement in the murder of her little son did indeed confess voluntarily.

Debra Milke, 45, was sentenced to death for her part in the murder of her 4-year-old son. Back in 1989, friends of Milke took the little boy into the desert and shot him the head. The child had been told he was going to see Santa Claus.

Last September, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a hearing to determine if Milke's confession was properly obtained.

Earlier this month, both Milke and the detective who took her confession, testified about the interview in question, which happened on Dec. 3, 1989. During that interview, Milke confessed that she conspired with James Styers to have the little boy killed. She reportedly indicated that it would be better for her son to die than to grow up like her husband.

That confession was central to her conviction and subsequent death sentence.

Armando Saldate, the detective, said his supervisor asked him to tape record the interview, but that Milke asked him not to. Today's such recordings are routine.

Milke, one of only two women on death row in Arizona, argued that she did not understand her Miranda rights. She also said she asked to see a lawyer, but those requests were denied.

The judge on Friday issued a ruling saying Milke "knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently waived her Miranda rights...".

The 9th Circuit will now have to decide if it's going to overturn Milke's sentence or grant her a new trial.