Goodyear, AZ—Debra Milke has languished on Arizona’s Death Row here for more than two decades. She’s no stranger to unwanted publicity, nearly all of it being outrageous and libelous.
This story all began with Milke’s arrest by a really poor excuse for a cop. Milke’s four year-old son Christopher was taken out to the desert and murdered by two men, James Styers and Roger Scott. The cop, Armando Saldate quickly fabricated a claim of a confession that he swore under oath that Milke gave him.
The reason for the perjury was simple, Saldate thought Milke was somehow involved in the murder and surmised he’d find the real evidence later. Saldate needed something, anything to justify holding Milke in custody and the phony confession did the trick.
To Saldate’s chagrin no real evidence ever surfaced. He was stuck repeating his lies under oath before a Grand Jury, a court and petit jury. 20 years later in January of 2010 Saldated lied again to a federal judge. I’m convinced that by his own reprehensible conduct Saldate has been personally tortured with guilt and shame. Unfortunately that’s the only punishment he’s received so far.
We all can only imagine the horror of the arrest, confinement, bad food, abuse and abject loneliness of Milke’s miserable ride through the criminal justice system. In jail and prison there is no privacy including the use of showers and the toilet. Invasive and humiliating strip searches are an everyday ordeal.
Then over the years the flashing of video and images of Milke in newspapers and TV all connected to a despicable crime in which Milke had no involvement. Publicity condemning her or even the broadcasts that raise issues of innocence all cause people to wonder if this woman is a terrible child killer. In the end it’s all something nobody should face especially when they are innocent.
I suspect there is no correspondent anywhere that has produced more TV stories and documentaries than me on this sad case. I’ve also written a feature film screenplay in addition to the thousands of words on this blog. It’s what I chose to do for a living and this shocking, compelling story must be told. I will see this through to the release of this victimized woman.
Milke’s story had every ingredient to drive publicity, books and films. It made for as fascinating and by far the longest news story that I’ve ever worked on. Had it not been for the media interest Milke’s case it may have very well have gone unnoticed until some candle light vigil the night before her execution.
Milke will probably never be able to return to a normal life where people won’t point to her and gossip about her ordeal. I hope most of it will be kind but unfortunately some of it won’t, as people will always wonder about the idea that’s Milke may have been involved with this disgusting murder.
Milke has found fame but at a huge price. For Milke disappearing in our small world will prove impossible. I have no doubt she will exploit this in a positive and productive way. How else can she deal with this disaster?
So far only the most unflattering pictures of this otherwise attractive woman are displayed in the media. Jail and prison mugshots are hardly elegant or even remotely pleasing. For Milke to see these pictures and images of her in chains must be pure torture.
Frankly I want more than anything to broadcast the first video of Milke walking out of the best beauty salon wearing the latest fashionable clothing she’s been denied for decades. Actors and most celebrities choose their exposure. For Milke this was anything but a choice. If the public must see Debra Milke, from now on it will be on her terms.
Taking a look at Milke’s mugshot above and you can see a human being. There’s no make up, nor is there a salon hairdo for her on Death Row. She appears as a woman with a soul that glares right through her eyes. Milke could be your sister, daughter, mother, friend, lover, or for that matter anyone from your inner circle. She could even be you.
Milke was deprived of a fair investigation, prosecution, trial and was relentlessly tortured by a broken criminal justice system. We all want to believe this kind of injustice is not tolerated at least in America. However in recent times we’ve been awash in wrongful convictions. What can we do to prevent ruined innocent lives in the future?
Milke will realize that like it or not her ordeal will be out in the public domain long after we’ve left this earth. The story of the crime and the massive failures of our criminal justice system will not soon be forgotten. Accountability for the injustice or a lack of it in the Milke case will be the topic of conversations for decades.
Milke has no current professional skills because of being locked away from cell-phones, computers and such. Challenges like figuring out how to operate a universal remote control for a modern wide screen TV and Blu-Ray player are in her immediate future. Milke needs to earn income but more importantly she must find her own productive, creative and passionate way to serve a purpose for society.
Now Debra Milke will be in demand as a public speaker for lawyer’s groups and such across the United States and Europe. This event changed her life and she has learned to adapt by necessity. Milke has been a survivor, keeping her sanity and her written communication skills in spite of her ordeal. At 49, what will her future and occupation dictate?
Milke can be the greatest anti-death penalty advocate ever. Milke will undoubtedly inspire lawyers, law students, investigators and journalists to better safeguard the rights of innocents. I know of at least one former President of Switzerland that told me she wants to me her.
I must admit that Milke’s misfortune has inspired me to not stand idly by and let a human rights nightmare happen right before my eyes. It is something that’s very easy to do. I have had to ask myself often, if I screamed about this case louder and earlier could I have made a difference? Sadly I know now that the answer is yes.
Right now I’m waiting breathlessly to hear a Maricopa County judge pronounce on the record that this nightmare is over. That day may be only days or weeks away now depending on how fast Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery moves this inevitable process.