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PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Supreme Court Thursday overturned some of a death row inmate's convictions and his death sentence in the killing of his ex-girlfriend's daughter, ruling that jurors shouldn't have heard a domestic violence expert's testimony profiling abusers and victims.
PHOENIX (AP) — In a scathing critique of Arizona's criminal justice system, a state appeals court Thursday ordered the dismissal of murder charges against a woman who spent 22 years on death row for the killing of her 4-year-old son.
The Arizona Court of Appeals leveled harsh criticism against prosecutors over their failure to turn over evidence during Debra Jean Milke's trial about a detective with a long history of misconduct and lying. The court called prosecutors' actions "a severe stain on the Arizona justice system."
A three-judge panel of the appeals court said it agreed with Milke's argument that a retrial would amount to double jeopardy.
The failure to disclose the evidence "calls into question the integrity of the system and was highly prejudicial to Milke," the court wrote. "In these circumstances — which will hopefully remain unique in the history of Arizona law — the most potent constitutional remedy is required."
The court said the charges against Milke in the 1989 death of her son Christopher can't be refiled, but prosecutors could appeal Thursday's ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Authorities say Milke dressed her son in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall in December 1989. He was then taken into the desert near Phoenix by two men and shot in the back of the head.
Authorities say Milke's motive was that she didn't want the child anymore and didn't want him to live with his father.
She was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to death. The case rested largely on her purported confession to Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate, which he did not record.
Milke, 50, was on death row for two decades, and the Arizona Supreme Court had gone so far as to issue a death warrant for Milke in 1997. The execution was delayed because she had yet to exhaust federal appeals.
The appeals court said Thursday it wasn't expressing an opinion on Milke's guilt or innocence, though it heavily criticized authorities for staking much of their case on a detective with credibility problems.
A federal appeals court threw out Milke's first-degree murder conviction in March 2013, saying prosecutors knew about a history of misconduct by the detective but failed to disclose it. Maricopa County prosecutors were preparing for a retrial.
Milke's appellate attorney, Lori Voepel, was ecstatic at Thursday's victory.
"We're all thrilled," Voepel said. "We still have the gag order so we can't say much more than we're all thrilled with the opinion."
Milke has been free on bail since September 2013 as she awaited retrial.
"This is really a sock in the gut — it's a cheap shot," said Arizona Milke, Christopher's father and Debra Milke's ex-husband. "She shouldn't walk free, because she's guilty."
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office is handling the case, said he plans to ask the Arizona Supreme Court to overturn Thursday's ruling. Montgomery said the accusations of misconduct happened well before he took over as the county's top prosecutor and would not happen today, citing safeguards such as having detectives record interviews with suspects.
Montgomery also said he would not be pursuing the case if he believed the evidence could not lead to a conviction in Christopher's killing.
"He should not be forgotten in all of this. Justice and due process for Christopher is a right that he has, too," Montgomery said. "And it's the job of prosecutors, unfortunately in situations like this, where we have to be the voice of the voiceless."
Milke has maintained her innocence and denied she ever confessed to the killing. The two men who led her child to his death in the desert were convicted of murder but refused to testify against Milke.
That left jurors with Saldate's word alone that she told him about her involvement. Saldate has since retired, and The Associated Press has made repeated efforts to reach him for comment.
In its ruling overturning Milke's conviction, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited numerous instances in which Saldate committed misconduct in previous cases, including lying under oath and violating suspects' rights. The federal appeals court also asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Saldate had committed civil rights violations.
Prosecutors insist Milke is guilty, but their ability to try her again was limited by the fact that Saldate said he wouldn't testify. He fears potential federal charges based on the 9th Circuit's accusations of misconduct.
In December, Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz granted Saldate's request to assert his Fifth Amendment right, allowing him to refuse to take the stand.
The state Court of Appeals overturned that ruling in April and said Saldate would be forced to testify at the retrial. Both county and federal authorities said they don't intend to seek charges against the detective based on any of the accusations leveled by the federal appeals court.
Milke, whose mother was a German who married a U.S. Air Force military policeman in Berlin in the 1960s, has drawn strong support from citizens of that nation and Switzerland, neither of which has the death penalty.
Milke's mother died in Germany this year after a battle with cancer. A week before the August death, a judge had denied Milke's request for permission to travel to Germany to visit her mother.
An Arizona man suspected of a homicide on Tempe's Mill Avenue has been arrested in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Richard Hurles, on death row following a 1992 stabbing, could get a new trial based on claims of bias by the judge who heard his case and sentenced him.
Gilbert has found itself listed as one of the safest cities in America for the second year in a row, although that doesn’t mean residents should rest too easily on their laurels.
Inspired by Sky Bar candy bars, these 4-in-1 cookies combine all your favorite flavors — chocolate, peanut butter, caramel and white chocolate — on top of a light spritz cookie. Feel free to play with the toppings, perhaps flavored chocolate chips, candied cherries or finely chopped sweetened dried fruit.
Player of the Year:
Collegiate sports have a different feel about them than professional sports. Loyalties to alma maters run deep. Now Arizona State fans will have another NCAA team to cheer on.
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — It could be months before Arizona officials seek execution warrants for death-row inmates after a judge granted a joint request by the state and defense attorneys.
A judge on Monday put on hold a lawsuit challenging the secrecy of execution protocols in Arizona pending the investigation of the nearly two-hour execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood.
The agreement stipulates that the Arizona Department of Corrections will not seek any death warrants for death-row inmates until the lawsuit is resolved. Officials had already suspended executions pending the Wood investigation.
The mutual agreement also states that Arizona officials will consider changing execution protocols and make any possible changes public.
The July 23 execution of Wood, who was convicted of murdering his estranged girlfriend and her father, called into question the efficacy of the drugs used after it took nearly two hours for Wood to die. He gasped repeatedly before taking his final breath.
Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, says the execution was botched, which state officials adamantly deny. The agency has said it is not commenting on pending litigation.
The lawsuit was filed in June on behalf of Wood and other death-row inmates. It claims the inmates have a First Amendment right to know about specific execution protocols such as the types of drugs used in lethal injections and the companies that supply them.
The First Amendment Coalition of Arizona later joined the lawsuit, saying the information should be released to the public.
The secrecy that surrounds executions has been a source of contention since officials in states that have the death penalty stopped making public details such as the drug manufacturers and drug combinations in 2010. European drug companies had stopped supplying lethal injection drugs, and states said they were protecting the privacy of local suppliers.
A group of media organizations including The Associated Press has filed a separate lawsuit contending that the information is of public interest.
Wood was given 15 doses of the sedative midazolam and a painkiller before he died.
NAPA, Calif. — Hot air balloons drifting in multicolored splashes against a blue heaven are a common sight in the Napa Valley. But lately, more than balloons have been taking to the wine country skies.
Fans of craft and local beer in Mesa are flocking to a new bar built specially for imbibers of the millennia-old beverage. The Brass Tap, tucked inside Mesa Riverview, opened its doors in March and, according to its owners, is thriving.
She was a normal-looking young woman. Her baseball cap and glasses shielded most of her face. She sat in a row of chairs. There were people on her left and right. With a book in one hand and a bag in the other, she looked familiar. I could not place her but I had seen her before. Something was familiar. Maybe it was her logo on her bag. I walked around to get a different angle on her facial features. My heartbeat was beginning to pick up. Should I approach her or not? What if I make a fool of myself? What if it is her, and I miss the opportunity to meet her?
Quarterback Emanuel Gant and the Tempe Buffaloes showed why they have yet to lose a game this season during their 41-21 win against Cactus in the teams’ Division III quarterfinal matchup on Friday night.
The Desert Vista cross country programs have had some pretty special days over the years.
GILBERT – It took a bit of reminder, but the Desert Vista girls volleyball team finally shook off Basha to earn a spot in the Division I state championship.
MESA - Desert Vista swimming continued to display why it is one of the best programs in the state on Saturday’s championship finals.
PHOENIX (AP) — An independent investigation of the nearly two-hour execution of an Arizona death row inmate is expected to be completed in the next two weeks, attorneys representing the state said Wednesday.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Binford, who is representing the state in a lawsuit involving the execution of Joseph Wood, said during a court status conference that a report is expected by mid-November.
Binford said the findings will go to Gov. Jan Brewer and to Arizona Department of Corrections director Charles Ryan, who may change the drug protocol for executions based on the report's recommendations.
Attorneys representing several prisoners and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona are seeking information about lethal injection methods used by the state.
U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake asked both sides for input about the need for litigation before the report comes out.
Mark Haddad, a lawyer representing the coalition, said litigation would ensure that evidence such as key witness interviews and electronic and phone communications would be preserved. Haddad further argued that even if the execution drug protocol changes, the state could essentially experiment on inmates without having to be completely transparent or accountable.
"They are free to go back to them even 18 hours before the execution or the day of the execution — as we learned from Mr. Wood," Haddad said.
It took nearly two hours and 15 doses of injection drugs before Joseph Wood died on July 23.