Media Contact

Alessandra Soler, ACLU of Arizona (602) 650-1854 office, or (602) 301-3705 cell

July 9, 2013


PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona strongly condemns the decision announced yesterday by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to re-try Debra Milke. After spending over 20 years of her life on death row, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 14, 2013, overturned her conviction based on the corrupt actions of the prosecution revealed in the record and ordered her release absent a new trial.

Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona, issued the following statement:

“The courts have been clear that Debra’s constitutional rights were violated. The decision by Bill Montgomery to re-try her is an extreme example of misuse of prosecutorial power in an apparent attempt to cover for the illegal use of such power by the County Attorney’s office during the 1990 trial. The taxpayers of Maricopa County should not again be asked to subsidize the political agenda and personal ambitions of an elected official, as was done for former County Attorney Thomas and Sheriff Arpaio.”

The ACLU of Arizona filed amicus (friend-of-the court) briefs on behalf of Milke on the issue of questionable police practices, specifically the unreliability of confessions in the absence of a video record. In September 2009, a unanimous panel of the 9th Circuit found that there was no evidence in the record that Debra had voluntarily given up her right to remain silent before the confession and remanded the case.

A subsequent evidentiary hearing revealed that the interrogating officer, Armando Saldate, who was the only witness to the alleged confession, intentionally did not take notes or make a recording and re-created what was said after the fact. It was also revealed that Saldate had a history of fabricating confessions, lying under oath and disciplinary actions, about which the County Attorney’s office failed to inform the defense.

In its March 2013 decision, the 9th Circuit stated, “[T]he Constitution requires a fair trial, and one essential element of fairness is the prosecution’s obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence. This never happened in Milke’s case, so the jury trusted Saldate without hearing of his long history of lies and misconduct […] All of this information should have been disclosed to Milke and the jury, but the state remained unconstitutionally silent.”  

Additionally, the Ninth Circuit found that the County Attorney’s office had a “cavalier attitude” toward its constitutional duty.