Judge mulls bond for woman in son's 1989 death

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX (AP) -- Lawyers urged a judge Friday to allow bail for a woman who spent 22 years on Arizona's death row before an appeals court threw out her conviction in the killing of her young son and ordered a retrial.

Attorneys for Debra Milke told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz that prosecutors lack enough evidence for the court to presume she might be guilty for bond purposes, and urged her to be released on $50,000 bond to a home supporters have bought in the Phoenix area.

"The evidence in this case is weak, it's flimsy, as the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals) said," attorney Michael Kimerer told Mroz. "We believe she is entitled to reasonable bond."

Prosecutor Vince Imbordino said that just wasn't the case, and that a confession Milke reportedly made is still admissible, as are statements police attributed to a co-defendant.

"As I stand here today the evidence is no different than when she was convicted," Imbordino said. "Debra Milke confessed to participating in killing her son."

Mroz has scheduled four afternoons of hearings next month to consider a request to have Milke's confession ruled inadmissible.

Imbordino asked for no bond, but said if the judge decides to grant the defense request she set it at $5 million. Mroz said Friday she would rule later on the bond request.

Authorities say Milke dressed her 4-year-old son Christopher in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall in December 1989. Two men, Roger Scott and former Milke roommate James Styers, took him to the desert and shot him. Neither testified at Milke's trial and both sit on death row.

The alleged confession is at the heart of the prosecution case against Milke, 49. A detective testified at her trial that she confessed to him in a closed interrogation room. That detective's honesty was called into doubt during her appeals, and the 9th Circuit concluded that prosecutors' failure to turn over evidence of previous problems deprived her attorneys of the chance to question Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate Jr.'s credibility before jurors.

And because it was the only direct evidence tying her to the killing, that fact could have swayed the jury, the panel ruled.

The court noted four cases where judges threw out confessions or indictments because Saldate lied under oath and four instances where cases were tossed or confessions excluded because Saldate violated the suspect's constitutional rights. They also asked that the U.S. Justice Department consider investigating him for civil rights abuses.

Saldate, now retired, has asked Mroz to appoint a lawyer to advise him at a retrial, and she said Friday she was open to doing so.

Arizona Milke, the father of the slain boy and Debra Milke's ex-husband, urged Mroz to deny bond. He said she was likely to flee the country or start drinking again and die. Milke said he and his ex-wife are both alcoholics.

Debra Milke, now gray-haired, sat quietly during the hearing.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office is again pursuing the death penalty. Debra Milke has maintained her innocence and denied she admitted to the crime.