Monday, March 18, 2013

Wow---prosecutorial misconduct leads to reversal of death penalty conviction

The Ninth Circuit reversed a death row conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct.  The opinion, by Judge Kozinski, is here.  The Trial Insider blog summarizes the case this way:

Kozinski wrote, “This is a disturbing case. There’s no physical evidence linking Debra Milke to the crime, and she has maintained her innocence since the day she was arrested.”
The only evidence linking her to the murder of her son by two men she asked to take him to see Santa Claus in 1990 was the word of Detective Armando Saldate, Jr., “a police officer with a long history of misconduct that includes lying under oath as well as accepting sexual favors in exchange for leniency and lying about it.”
Young Christopher had asked his mother to let him see Santa Claus at the mall and she agreed to let him go with her roommate James Styers. Styers picked up a friend, Roger Scott, and instead of the mall, drove the boy to a ravine outside town where they shot him in the head. They drove to the mall and reported Christopher missing. The motive was allegedly a plot by Styers and Scott to collect social security benefits and insurance as a result of the boy’s death, according to the court.
Police began to suspect the two men almost immediately. Saldate was one of the officers questioning the two men. Scott led the officers to Christopher’s body. Scott purportedly said at some point that Milke was involved, but neither man would testify against her and the statement was excluded as hearsay at her trial.
But Saldate seized on the statement and went to question Milke. She was taken to a small room at Pinal County jail where Saldate abruptly told the 25-year-old woman her son was dead. He said he didn’t “buy” her sobbing because she had no tears, according to the opinion.
He continued to question her, without tape recording the conversation as instructed. Saldate claims Milke opened up to him within 30 minutes, waived her Miranda rights, and confessed to a murder conspiracy with the two men.
She has consistently denied involvement in the murder and said she had asked for a lawyer but was ignored. Saldate even testified he destroyed his interview notes after writing his official report. In the end, the jury believed Saldate and convicted Milke. What jurors didn’t know was Saldate’s “long history of lying under oath and other misconduct,” Kozinski said. “The state knew about this misconduct but didn’t disclose it,” despite the requirements of long-standing legal precedents. (Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. U.S.)

And here's Thomson Reuters:

The detective testified that Milke told him she had contemplated having an abortion while pregnant with Christopher and had complained to Styers about her son. The detective said she confessed to conspiring to the murder, although she protested her innocence and denied the claim.
In its ruling, the court said the state failed to disclose Saldate's substantial misconduct record, which included four court cases where judges tossed out confessions or indictments because he lied under oath.
The court said that, without the detective's testimony, the prosecution had no case against her, as there was no physical evidence linking her to the crime and neither of her supposed co-conspirators - Styers and Scott - would testify against her.
"The panel held that the state remained unconstitutionally silent instead of disclosing information about Det. Saldate's history of misconduct and accompanying court orders and disciplinary action," the ruling said.
"Some of the misconduct wasn't disclosed until the case came to federal court and, even today, some evidence relevant to Saldate's credibility hasn't been produced, perhaps because it's been destroyed."
The appeals court ordered the state to provide Milke's counsel with the detective's personnel records. The district court was then ordered to release Milke, who is one of three women listed on Arizona's death row, unless the state should decide to retry her.

No comments: