Debra Jean Milke has been on death row for more than 22 years after being convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in the 1989 killing of her son, Christopher. (Source: Arizona Department of Corrections)
PHOENIX (CBS5/AP) -
Arizona's attorney general says he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a federal appeals court ruling that threw out the conviction of a Phoenix woman accused of having two men kill her 4-year-old son in 1989.
Tom Horne called the crime that has kept Debra Jean Milke on the state's death row since her 1990 conviction "outrageous." On Friday, he said she killed her son Christopher to improve her social life.
The main evidence against Milke was a confession she supposedly made to the lead detective in the case. She's always maintained her innocence and said she didn't confess.
Prosecutors said Milke dressed the 4-year-old boy in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa at the mall in December 1989. He had been the day before and begged her to go back.
Instead, Milke's roommate picked up a friend and took the boy out to the desert, where they shot him three times in the back of the head.
Those two men were arrested and charged with murder. They currently sit on death row. At the time, one of the men indicated said he thought Milke was involved, though neither of them have ever testified against Milke.
Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate interviewed Milke. He reported that Milke waived her rights to an attorney and confessed to being involved.
Milke's attorney Lori Voepel told CBS 5 News there was "no physical evidence against Debra. There's no claim she was even at the scene. The only evidence was a police detective's testimony that she confessed in a room alone where he didn't record it, didn't get anything signed and he didn't have it witnessed."
There were no witnesses or direct evidence linking Milke to the crime. The prosecution's case hinged on Saldate.
Milke was convicted and sentenced to death but all along maintained her innocence. She has been on death row for more than 22 years.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling says the prosecution failed to disclose information about a history of misconduct by Saldate who provided key incriminating testimony regarding Milke.
Long time criminal investigators, including private investigator Paul Huebl, have believed for years Milke was innocent.
"I knew that it was bogus from day one. I believed that this has been a false report for 23 years," said Huebl.
Huebl was the first person other than detectives and jail personnel to talk with Milke after her arrest. He went to see her the day after she went to jail and talked with her even before any attorney.
"Could you tell me, did you tell the police you had anything to do with the death of your son?" Huebl said he asked Milke. "Debra Milke's eyes were huge. She glared at me and she said, 'That's crazy! Who told you that? I had nothing to do with the death of my son.'"
The opinion of the court stated Saldate has a long history of lying under oath that the judge and jury in the original case never learned. The Ninth Circuit Court judge who authored the opinion also said the state knew about this misconduct but didn't disclose it.
Rick Romley was Maricopa County Attorney at the time.
"It was a horrific story that just tore at the heartstrings," Romley said.
He said that he remembers the facts being quite strong against Milke. He also indicated there was never a question in his mind that she was guilty.
"If she walks, it's a travesty of justice. You just can't get around that," Romley said.
Milke will remain in prison for the time being.
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.