Phoenix, AZ—When the print and broadcast media here set about to report the horror story of the Christmas season of 1989 they desperately sought information. Christopher Milke, 4 was taken out to the desert and shot three times in the head by two creeps, James Lynn Styers and Roger Mark Scott. Phoenix police were not talking and competition between news organizations back then was really contentious.
That competition was how I became involved as the local CBS news affiliate KTSP-TV retained me to get to the bottom of this major news story. Police had also arrested Debra Jean Milke, the boy’s mother and there was a vacuum of information about the accused and motives.
I was the only media representative that was able to get inside the Maricopa County Jail and interview Milke within hours of her arrest. I used a hidden tape recorder and that recording was broadcast to over a million TV viewers that night. Milke strongly and vehemently denied involvement in the crime or confessing such to police.
Unfortunately when some reporters have no information they fabricate what they publish. Other reporters then plagiarize the manufactured garbage as fact.
Here the journalistic lapse seemed small but it affected public perception and the media’s own view of the motive and logic behind a despicable and reprehensible crime.
The offending media fiction suggested that Milke and Styers were lovers. Some reports branded Styers as Milke’s boyfriend. During the investigation and trial there was no evidence or suggestion that Styrers and Milke were romantically involved. Milke did have a boyfriend, Ernie Sweat who testified at her trial.
The media fabrication or assumption came as facts unfolded that revealed that Styers and Milke shared a two-bedroom apartment with two children. Styers had a daughter the same age as the murdered boy. Styers lived in the apartment as a caregiver for both children. The fact that Styers had a daughter gave him credibility and trust with Milke and her family.
All of the facts of the true nature of relationship between Styers and Milke were made clear by both the defense and prosecution at their respective trials. Too many of the reporters and producers were not present at the trials and repeat the bad fiction as fact.
Debra Milke has maintained her innocence the entire time. The reason Milke is on Death Row is a Phoenix cop claimed she confessed during an interrogation. Despite being ordered by a superior to record the interview the now retired detective, Armando Saldate did not. As a result of this evidentiary lapse we all must guess what was really said at that interrogation. The jury guessed that Milke confessed by giving more weight to Saldate’s version than Milke’s of what was said.
Now, every time there is a story written, reporters simply repeat the lies written by their colleagues decades ago. These are not just lies but damn lies.