Debra Milke


Exoneree Name

State: Arizona

Convicted: 1990

Exonerated: 2015

Race: Caucasian

DNA used in exoneration? No

Reasons for wrongful conviction:

False confession

Perjury or false accusation

Police misconduct

Prosecutorial misconduct

Debra's Wrongful Conviction



Debra Milke spent 22 years on Arizona’s death row for a crime she did not commit.


In 1989, Debra was a single, 25 year old mother, with a four year old son. One day in December, her son went to the mall with her friend to go see Santa Claus, but he never came back. Hours later Debra was taken into an interrogation room and told the devastating news, her son was found murdered, and she was under arrest. Debra had to face two tragedies at the same time.


Armando Saldate Jr., the homicide detective who interrogated Debra, said she had confessed everything to him. He didn’t have tapes, witnesses, or a signed statement to prove it, the only evidence was his word against hers. What the prosecutors failed to disclose was that Saldate had a history of misconduct. These lies and cover ups would take away decades of Debra's life.


At her trial, Debra told the jury she had not committed this terrible crime, but every argument for her innocence was countered by Saldate’s lie that she had confessed. Ultimately, the jury believed the lying detective over Debra and she was sentenced to death.


Debra fought for her freedom for over two decades; learning legal language, reading briefs, and getting a new lawyer. It finally paid off in 2013 when the federal 9th Circuit court of appeals overturned her conviction, calling it “a severe stain on the Arizona justice system.”


Years later, Debra's heart still aches for the loss of her son. She is glad she kept fighting for her freedom, but that pain is still with her. No one should have to experience this kind of blatant injustice. That is why Debra continues to fight against the death penalty.

"I always believed this day would come I just didn't think it would take 25 years, 3 months and 14 days to rectify such a blatant miscarriage of justice," Milke said.

Debra's Work Today

Debra remains in her hometown of Phoenix, where she works part-time at a law firm, and tries to rebuild her shattered life. She is also active with Witness to Innocence, speaking about her story in the hopes of abolishing the death penalty and participating in both Accuracy & Justice and Justice After Exoneration.

Publications:

A Stolen Life: The Debra Milke Story

  • Written by Jana Bommersbach

  • Bommersbach, an award winning journalist, tells the story of Debra Milke's tragic wrongful conviction.

In The Media:

3.17.15 Do we owe Debra Milke anything?

3.23.15 Murder charges formally dismissed against Milke

3.24.15 Debra Milke, who spent 22 years on Arizona death row, has murder case tossed

3.24.15 Debra Milke speaks out after 23 years on death row

3.26.15 Debra Milke: Why freedom feels so elusive to death row exonerees

8.3.15 Debra Milke’s new world after a half-life on death row

6.13.16 Judge refuses to drop Milke lawsuit against police, prosecutors

10.21.16 Meeting the survivors of death row

5.4.18 Anti-death penalty group calls on Arizona to end capital punishment

4.17.19 Former Death Row Inmate Speaks About Her Life After Being Exonerated

8.27.19 Wrongfully Convicted

9.3.19 Bommersbach wasn’t going to touch this story