Arizona mom convicted of killing 4-year-old son goes free after 24 years, pending retrial

Debra Milke during a hearing Aug. 1 in Phoenix. Ross D. Franklin / AP

Debra Milke, the Arizona woman who's spent 24 years on death row in connection with the shooting death of her 4-year-old son in 1989, walked out of jail Friday awaiting a retrial after a judge said there was insufficient evidence linking her to the killing.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out Milke's 1990 conviction and death sentence in March, finding that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence of extensive misconduct by the lead Phoenix police detective in the case.

Milke, 49, left the Maricopa County jail after posting bail of which was paid by her terminally ill mother, who lives in Germany, where Milke was born.

Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz rejected prosecutors' pleas to keep Milke in prison despite the appeals court decision, ruling that there is "serious doubt (about) the validity of the defendant's alleged confession."

Besides ordering a new trial for Milke, the appeals court recommended that federal authorities investigate the case for possible civil rights violations involving the lead detective, Armando Saldate. Since the Milke trial, courts have found that Saldate lied in numerous criminal cases.

Milke was convicted in 1990 after Saldate testified that she confessed to having conspired with two men to kill 4-year-old Christopher Milke. Other testimony showed that the men told Christopher he was going to the mall to see Santa Claus but instead took him to a secluded location in the desert and shot him in the head.

Milke adamantly denied that she confessed. The 9th Circuit court noted that Saldate didn't record the confession or take any notes during the interrogation, during which there were no other witnesses.

Milke's retrial is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30. A separate hearing is scheduled for Sept. 23 to determine whether Saldate's testimony can again be admitted.

Watch US News crime videos on