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Arizona prosecutors sat on evidence that Detective Armando Saldate, Jr. had “a long history of misconduct that includes lying under oath as well as accepting sexual favors in exchange for leniency and lying about it” when they allowed him to testify against 25 year-old Debra Milke. Saldate claimed on the stand that Milke confessed to him that she had conspired to murder her son during the 1989 Christmas holidays.

On March 14, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the state knew of the evidence about Saldate’s misconduct in his personnel file and had an obligation to produce it, and that “there is a reasonable probability that disclosure of the evidence would have led to a different result.” In other words, the state committed a Brady violation.

Christopher Milke was shot and killed by two men who took him from his mother to see Santa Claus at the local mall. One of the men, James Styers, was Debra Milke’s roommate at the time. He and a friend thought they could collect social security benefits and insurance if they killed Christopher. When they were arrested, Scott allegedly told Det. Saldate that Milke was involved.

Saldate arrested Milke, told her that Christopher was dead and then proceeded to interrogate her about her involvement in the murder. Without recording the interrogation (as his supervisor had instructed him to do), Saldate allegedly extracted a confession from her after she waived her Miranda rights. He subsequently wrote up the official report and then destroyed his interview notes.

Milke has maintained that she was ignored when she asked for a lawyer and that she denied any involvement in the crime during the interrogation. There was no physical evidence linking her to the murder or her alleged co-conspirators – neither of whom would testify against her at trial. Nevertheless, it was Milke’s word against Saldate’s and her jury convicted and sentenced her to death.

Saldate was something of a serial liar. The 9th Circuit refers to four court cases where judges tossed out confessions or indictments because he lied under oath. Yet none of what the Court refers to as a “trove of impeachment evidence” against Saldate was turned over to Milkie’s attorneys by the prosecutors handling the case.

The Court also suggests that the problems aren’t over: “…even today, some evidence relevant to Saldate’s credibility hasn’t been produced, perhaps because it’s been destroyed.”

Milke’s conviction and sentence were vacated last week, but the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (which has had it’s fair share of problems with prosecutorial misconduct lately) has vowed to retry her.

Read the full 9th Circuit Opinion here.

Update: May, 2013 – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a motion from Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne to reconsider its ruling.

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