San Francisco, CA—On the minds of a three judge panel today is whether or not to kill a 46 year old woman. That woman, Debra Milke has been on Arizona’s Death Row for more than 20 years. The questions linger throughout the two decades of this battle over fundamental fairness of this Phoenix murder trial.
The 9th Circuit U.S. Circuit Court of Appeales panel may order a new trial or affirm Milke’s conviction. Either way whatever they decide an appeal will probably be made to the US Supreme Court by the defense or prosecution. There will be no middle-ground, Milke will either be retried for the murder allegation of an execution will take place. A new trial would probably exclude the hotly disputed confession.
The apparent sole issue the court is currently examining is not the truth of a police detective's confession testimony, but the highly technical question of whether Milke waived her right to have a lawyer present. A ruling by this court is not expected before at least another 90 days.
Debra Milke, was a divorced mom who had no criminal history. Milke always remained employed and kept a clean and tidy apartment. Her four-year old son Christopher Milke was well cared for and loved. It is uncontroverted Christopher was murdered by two men, James Styers and Roger Scott who confessed to police on audio tape. They both accused each other of the actual firing of the three gunshots into the boys head but admitted to their cover-up of this unimaginable crime.
Debra Milke’s failure in life was the choice she made for a husband who was Christopher’s father. He was Mark Henry Milke, an ex-convict, drug and alcohol addicted loser. He also has a history of mental illness and commitment. He has a long history of domestic violence with numerous women he has cohabited with ever since. The court records show his convictions and multiple Orders of Protection.
Today this fellow changed his name to, “Arizona Milke” and has capitalized on the lie that Debra Milke killed their son as an act of revenge against him. He has used his "victim" status to gain sympathy as a method to court and freeload off women for the last 20 years.
Debra Milke had to leave her violent husband for her own, and the safety of their young son. The boy’s father never paid child support and Debra Milke had to manage on a low paid secretarial job to provide for Christopher.
A neighborhood man, James Styers had a daughter Chistopher’s age and he was a single father. He was collecting disability from the military over his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he had claimed was the result of being a Marine assigned to Viet Nam. On his face Styers seemed to be harmless to those that knew him.
Styers had suggested that they (he and Milke) could move in an apartment together and he would be Christopher’s day care provider. There was no romance other than Styer’s designs that were always rebuffed by Milke. They had different bedrooms. Styers had the use of Milke’s car during the day and as he consumed anything found inside the refrigerator. This was far from the best arrangement for Milke and her son but few single moms have ideal lives.
One day Milke had finally found and new and better paying job at the John Alden Life Insurance Company across town in Tempe, AZ. She could now afford to move into her own two bedroom apartment and obtained licensed daycare for her son.
This move would turn Styer’s world upside down. No more use of the car, or other freeloading off of Milke. Any chance Styer’s had to develop romance with Milke was fading fast.
Milke settled into her new job and relationship with a young man named Ernie Sweat. Milke’s routine job benefit package included a death benefit policy for burial of a family member for $5,000.00. Milke took the job benefit folder home and put it on the coffee table where police would later find it and turn it into a motive for murder. Of course somebody would still have to pay for the boy’s funeral that would have easily cost $5,000.00. The police logic here was tortured at best.
Milke found and put a deposit on her new apartment close to the new job and made arrangements for day care. Milke then gave the news to Styers. Soon Styers made a plan of his own to take Christopher to the Metro-Center Mall to see Santa. Styrers and his boyhood pal Scott took the lad out, suggested they all go snake hunting in the desert. They took the boy out to a wash and one of the men pumped three .22 caliber bullets into the boy’s head. They left him dead in this isolated area.
Styers then went alone to the Metro-Center mall where he contacted the security department giving them a concocted story of how the boy simply vanished.
Police using all available manpower, dogs and a helicopter searched in vain for the boy. One of the better police detectives working anywhere was assigned to the Phoenix Police Department Missing Persons Detail. Detective Charlie Massino solved more murders by accident than even the most proficient homicide detectives working for that department.
Detective Charles Massino at the Sears Bathroom
Massino was at his best when he began the non-custodial interview of Styers at the Sears store. Styers’ story was he had to use the bathroom for a bowel movement and told Christopher to wait just outside the door. When Styers came out he said the boy simply disappeared.
Massino went into the bathroom and discovered three stalls. The detective opened each door and found one toilet was broken and unusable. Massino stepped outside and invited Styers into the bathroom. “Okay, Jim would you open the door to the stall you used?” asked the curious cop. Styers opened the door to the broken toilet. For Styers things were gong downhill rapidly.
Styers tried sticking to that unconvincing story but the jig was up and Styers confessed into a police tape recorder. Massino solved yet another one.
One theory is that Styer’s wanted the boy to be missing so Milke would not move away. That Styers was hoping the grieving mother would cry on his shoulder giving him a chance for romance under the foulest of conditions.
Armondo Saldate was a homicide detective with his own set of rules. To the misfortune of Debra Milke it was not a gifted cop like Massino that was sent to interrogate her.
Saldate was desperate to drag Debra Milke into this murder web despite a total lack of evidence. He somehow thought the paltry $5,000.00 burial police from Milke’s new job benefit was the motive. To hold Milke Saldate needed something, anything to use while he’d build his case. That something appeared days later in the form of a supplementary police report wherein Saldate claimed Milke confessed to him.
There was no standard audio recording used by Saldate, nor was there a single witness to the interview. Saldate knew full well whatever happened in that interview room would become a “swearing contest” that he’d automatically win in any courtroom. Saldate had a history of these types of antics and his supervisor instructed him to tape the interview. Saldate did what Saldate always did, set up yet another fixed swearing contest.
I don’t think Saldate actually set out to frame an innocent person here. He just assumed he was framing a guilty one. He needed evidence and fabricated the confession, thinking he’d find the evidence he needed later. That evidence never arrived. Saldalte told his version of that story to a Grand Jury that bound this young woman over for a murder trial.
Milke was assigned a lawyer appointed by the court, C. Kenneth Ray. This lawyer was no match for the shrewd and experienced death penalty prosecutor Noel Levy. Among his many mistakes Ray failed to locate and interview witnesses. He failed to prevent the introduction of an outrageous audiotape that placed Milke in a horribly false light. Ray hired an "expert", John Fritz to examine evidence. I investigated fritz and found that his resume had even more padding than was present at my high school prom. I exposed Fritz as a phony in a TV news broadcast presented by KSAZ-TV's Donna Cordova I produced during the trial.
Here I am at the entrance to Perryville Prison where Debra Milke waits on Death Row.
The judge, Cheryl Hendrix ordered a contempt hearing for the pretender who was paid with court funds for a job he could not do. There was no physical evidence that implicated Milke anyway that needed contesting.
Ray should have interviewed me and subpoenaed the tape I made of my interview that was broadcast that same night to millions on Arizona. The jury never heard this interview made within hours of Milke’s alleged confession to Saldate, before she talked to any lawyer or could get advice from anyone. That interview convinced me that Milke never confessed to Saldate as he later claimed.
For the first time I was asked to give testimony in this case at a hearing before Federal Judge Robert C. Broomfield in January of 2010.
Below is the actual 48 page court transcript of my testimony and after that is a video report of an exclusive interview I had with Milke the day before she was sentenced to the Arizona Gas Chamber:
Huebl Testimony Jan 2010