Judge in Debra Milke murder case demands explanation

PHOENIX - Demanding an explanation, a judge said prosecutors in the case of a former Arizona death row inmate sat on important information affecting the availability of a key witness.

Judge Rosa Mroz of Maricopa County Superior Court said in an order released Tuesday that she was surprised to read in a newspaper article that federal prosecutors had said in a letter that statutes of limitations had expired on any misconduct on a former police detective whose credibility has been questioned.

Former detective Armando Saldate's lawyer has said his client will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to testify in Debra Milke's retrial.

Saldate is an important witness in the case because he testified during Milke's first trial that she confessed to him that she was involved in the killing of her 4-year-old son, Christopher.

However, Milke has maintained her innocence.

Milke was released on bond on Sept. 6.

A federal appeals court in March overturned Milke's 1990 murder conviction in the 1989 killing of her son, ruling that prosecutors should have told her defense that Saldate had a record of untruthfulness in other cases.

Mroz said in her order that she didn't even know whether a letter from federal prosecutors existed, but County Attorney Bill Montgomery on Friday gave copies of the Aug. 30 letter to reporters during a news conference.

In her order, the judge told the Montgomery deputy leading the prosecution of Milke to explain why prosecutors "did not inform the court of the federal prosecutors' letter and instead chose to reveal the information through a press conference."

In another part of the order, Mroz underlined and bold-faced that it was "in late August" that prosecutors got the letter.

Montgomery devoted much of the news conference to defending Saldate and criticizing as inaccurate the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' descriptions of alleged misconduct by the former detective.

Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the County Attorney's Office, declined Tuesday, in advance of the office submitting a planned response to the judge, to comment on Mroz's order and say whether the letter was previously submitted to the court.

Saldate attorney Larry Debus did not immediately return a call regarding the letter and Mroz's order.

Authorities say Milke had her son killed, in part, to keep him from her ex-husband. They say she dressed the boy in his favorite outfit in December 1989, telling him he was going to a mall to see Santa Claus before handing him over to two men who took the child into the desert and shot him three times in the back of the head.

Both men are currently on death row. Neither testified at Milke's first trial.

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