Debra Milke has been on death row for 20 years, convicted of having her son killed for a share of an insurance policy. But now she could get a new trial -- and it's all because of questions surrounding her alleged confession.
A Phoenix detective says she confessed to the whole sordid crime, but did he violate her Miranda rights? The interrogation was never recorded, and Milke never signed a waiver giving up her right to remain silent.
Last year, a federal appeals court in California found there was no evidence Milke waived her Miranda rights. Now a federal judge in Phoenix is taking a fresh look.
4-year-old Christopher Milke was taken into the desert by two men and shot three times in December 1989. Milke's live-in boyfriend, James Lynn Styers, and his friend Roger Mark Scott, were also convicted in the plot.
In court Monday, Milke told a federal judge that Detective Armando Saldate badgered her during the murder interrogation. And even after she asked for a lawyer, she says he wouldn't stop asking questions.
An attorney who wrote a friend-of-the-court brief for Milke's attorney says it's outrageous the interrogation was never taped.
"I think most civilized people now understand it is inexcusable for law enforcement deliberately to make a decision not to record an interrogation in any homicide case or serious felony," says attorney Larry Hammond.
Under friendly questioning by the Arizona Attorney General's office, former detective Armando Saldate testified that Milke knew exactly what was going on during questioning, and that she confessed.
Milke's attorneys portrayed Saldate as a fame-hungry cop who repeatedly ignored Miranda warnings, questioning suspects in a number of cases even after they asked for a lawyer and the right to remain silent.
Saldate says he asked Debra Milke if she wanted the interrogation taped, and she said no. But her attorneys disagree.
If the federal judge decides that Milke's confession violated the law, he could throw it out and order a new trial. The hearing continues on Tuesday.