Accused child-killer Debra Milke released Friday afternoon

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by Catherine Holland

Video reports by Mike Watkiss, Natalie Brand and Ryan O'Donnell

Posted on September 5, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 11 at 7:24 AM

PHOENIX – A former death-row inmate and accused child-killer was released on bond Friday afternoon.

Debra Milke, the woman convicted in 1990 of murdering her 4-year-old son, left the Estrella Jail in a Lexus that was driven by her attorney Michael Kimerer.

Judge Rosa Mroz on Thursday set a secured appearance bond of $250,000 for Milke.

Kimerer told 3TV's Mike Watkiss early Friday afternoon that Milke's mother, who is gravely ill and lives in Europe, is putting up the money for the bond.

Authorities say Milke dressed her little boy in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall in 1989. He was later shot to death by two men, as planned by Milke, according to police. Prosecutors said Milke thought the child was an "inconvenience" and wanted to collect on a $5,000 insurance policy.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Milke's conviction in March, after she had been on death row for 22 years. The court found that prosecutors had not turned over evidence of misconduct by a police detective who testified that Milke confessed arranging the murder to him in a private interrogation room.

Since that decision, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has been preparing to retry Milke.

Milke's defense team argued that she is “entitled to reasonable bond.” While they asked that she be released on a $50,000 bond, Prosecutor Vince Imbordino disagreed, arguing that the confession at the heart of the overturned conviction should stand.

"As I stand here today the evidence is no different than when she was convicted," Imbordino said at a hearing on Aug. 30. "Debra Milke confessed to participating in killing her son."

Mroz disagreed.

“This Court also cannot simply ignore the Ninth Circuit court’s opinion and all the information that this Court now has in its possession … [which] casts serious doubts on the validity of the Defendant’s alleged confession.” she wrote in her decision.

While there is still a suppression hearing scheduled for later this month that will pit the credibility of the detective against that of the defendant, Mroz said she had to “decide the bond issue based on the totality of the existing information.”

In Mroz’s opinion, “the proof is not evident or presumption great that the Defendant committed the crimes charged in the Indictment.”

With that, Mroz set a secured bond in the amount of $250,000.

"I was very pleased but not surprised," attorney Larry Hammond of the Arizona Justice Project said of Thursday's ruling. Hammond has been involved in Milke's case for years.

"The court here cannot ignore what the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals has said about the questionable nature of the alleged confession," Hammond said.  "Without that confession, if it turns out not to be admissible, there is very little that would suggest that Debra Milke is guilty of this crime."

Mroz will hear arguments about that alleged confession on Sept. 23. She then will decide if prosecutors can use it in Milke's retrial.

The Maricopa County County Attorney's Office declined to comment on Milke's imminent release.

Meanwhile, if Milke is able to post bond, she be have to comply with a variety of restrictions, including electronic monitoring and a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew.

With a secured appearance bond, collateral worth at least the amount of the bond is required. Kimerer said Milke's mother is working with a bail bond company, which means she will pay a nonrefundable fee of 10 percent of the bond plus expenses, as well as offering the collateral.

Milke has been in the custody of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, held at Estrella Jail, since July. According to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, she will be likely released from the Lower Buckeye facility some time Friday.

According to Arpaio, she and her attorneys told MCSO staff that they will not grant media interviews until the case is resolved.

Milk has been either in jail or prison since police arrested her on Dec. 3, 1989.

Milke's ex-husband, a man named Arizona Milke, is convinced his former wife was involved in their son's murder. He said Thursday he intends to sue her, the detective whose testimony is in question, and the state and for what he believes is a conspiracy to conceal the boy's real killer.

"She'll win this case criminally," he said Thursday. "But she'll lose it civilly, and so will the state."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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