PHOENIX – An Arizona woman who spent more than two decades on death row was released on bond Friday after a judge ruled there’s no direct evidence linking her to the death of her young son, other than a purported confession to a detective whose honesty has been questioned.
Debra Milke walked out of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s jail after supporters posted $250,000 bond.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her conviction in March, stating that prosecutors should have disclosed information that cast doubt on the credibility of a since-retired detective who said Milke confessed.
The 49-year-old Milke has not been exonerated, but a judge said she could go free while preparing for a new trial in a case that made her one of Arizona’s most reviled inmates.
Milke was convicted in the death of her 4-year-old son, Christopher, who was allegedly killed for a $5,000 insurance payout. His mother was accused of dressing the boy in his favorite outfit in December 1989 and telling him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall before handing him over to two men who took the child into the desert and shot him. She had been imprisoned since 1990.
A defense lawyer told the judge last week that Milke would live in a Phoenix-area home purchased by supporters.
Prosecutors declined to comment on Milke’s possible release and have not appealed the bond order.
Milke, whose mother was a German who married a U.S. Air Force military policeman in Berlin in the early 1960s, has drawn strong support from citizens of that nation and Switzerland, neither of which has the death penalty.
Max Krucker, former president of the Swiss community where Milke’s mother now lives, said Renate Janka was “ecstatic” Friday about the possibility that her daughter would be released. She was planning to fly to Arizona as early as Saturday, Krucker said.
A dozen years ago, Krucker was among the organizers of an effort in the Swiss town of Emmetten to support Milke, including by establishing a bank account that collected donations to aid in her defense. The account eventually netted about 200,000 Swiss francs, or about $213,000 today. It’s now nearly drained, he said.
Supporters also run a website that requests donations through German and Swiss accounts.
Milke’s ex-husband, whose name is Arizona Milke, believes his former wife is guilty and that supporters are fooled by the postings on the website.
“It’s fed by propagandized lies,” he said Friday. “They write whatever they want and put it up there like it’s true.”
Milke was a 25-year-old insurance company clerk when her son was killed. She has maintained her innocence.
The two men convicted in the case both remain on death row. Neither Roger Scott nor former Milke roommate James Styers testified at Milke’s trial. Scott confessed during a police interrogation and led detectives to the boy’s body.