Debra Milke 

Debra Milke’s arrest came on the 3rd of December, 1989 just hours after Eldon’s and she faced not only Noel Levy as prosecutor, but the same team of investigators with Phoenix Detective Armando Saldate acting as senior detective. The similarities do not stop there, however, and her case as Eldon’s leaves one to wonder how an allegedly ethical and skilled prosecutor could depend solely upon the shallow accusations of others, with as Levy himself admitted the questionable testimony used in Debra’s trial certainly leaving doubt as to her guilt.
Not surprisingly, Saldate was the main witnesses in Debra case and at trial related the details of a confession that Debra allegedly made to him. In fact, according to Saldate, Debra admitted to having the two co-defendants murder her four year old son to gain five thousand dollars in life insurance. However, there was not a shred of evidence that is above reproof including the confession that came from a completely paraphrased report with the interrogation not recorded, witnessed or signed, despite Saldate’s superiors instructing him to record her interrogation.
Even a life insurance policy Levy asserted provided the motive for murder was provided by Debra’s place of employment which was by chance an insurance company. Levy’s target was not a crazed drug addict who took out a policy on her child looking to collect the cash. She was a working mother whose job provided a small burial policy that Noel Levy somehow convinced a jury would provide enough after the expense of a funeral and paying two killers to induce Debra to have her child slain. However, when one looks closer, the case seems a vile joke perpetrated against a grieving parent.
To begin, detectives and Levy enflamed the city and even Debra’s family members to build a weak circumstantial case that skirted by in court. At first glance, with one expecting to find solid proof of guilt, it actually seems details that imply guilt would have to be omitted from the website established for Debra. However, a closer look at the material available on the internet reveals that not only is the site accurate, but detectives and Levy did to Debra what was done to others. Levy needed no actual evidence, with the investigation intended to only provide just enough to convict the child's mother. Solely focused on Debra's prosecution, the evidence was designed to fit.
It is already an established fact that Levy and Phoenix detectives had no qualms concerning fabricating evidence, when the lack of the bothersome detail got in their way. They used the ploy against Ray Krone, and David Hyde, and it appears several others. Debra’s family is not hiding the truth, the evidence simply did not exist, though Levy managed to create a good enough show to convict.
In fact, Saldate was key in that performance, with his account including such details as Debra coming onto the aged, overweight and by all accounts repulsive cop in an effort to save herself which is notably an accusation used earlier the same day by Detective Chambers in his account of Julie’s interview. Yet, it was never brought out at trial that Saldate was proven to have previously sexually harassed another woman who he approached in his capacity as a police officer. Nor was it revealed that he was disciplined for that act and others. Instead, as if his character was beyond reproach, Saldate helped to condemn a young woman, as earning himself merit for his service.
Yet, Saldate's practices are questionable, as in each of his cases, he created an incomplete paraphrased report that contains little detail beyond that which is needed to obtain a guilty verdict and did so as omitting necessary facts and including the most outrageous tales in their place. Then, each time, he took the stand as an officer of supposed sterling reputation supplying plentiful testimony outside his reports to aide the prosecution in cases that were otherwise based on a character assassination alone.
Debra from first learning of the alleged confession has vehemently denied the statements he attributes to her, but still her character was shredded in court by the dubious detective. Plus, due to Saldate’s misrepresentations concerning the evidence that police held against Debra, she found some of her own family members and the family of her ex-husband, Mark Milke, against her as well. Though her family has since given statements to Debra’s appellate attorneys explaining that they spoke in anger for believing that she did have her child killed as Detective Saldate had assured them was the case, their statements in court were key in helping to destroy Debra's credibility. What they indicate is that Saldate deliberately deceived them in order to turn them against Debra and her mother, Renate Janka, who continued to support her daughter despite Saldate’s accusations.
Debra’s family members and friends were actually given details of the crime and investigation that did not exist, with the emotional state caused by the fabrications and prompting used to lead them into believing that they did not know Debra at all and to turn them against her. Saldate claimed that there was indisputable proof Debra was a monster, in order to reach the prosecution’s goal, and a family was cruelly torn apart by his game. As a result, one of those misinformed was Debra’s father who later died expressing his sorrow for having ever believed Saldate over his child.
In fact, like many would do, it seems as a military man, Debra’s father expected integrity from a police officer. He trusted the story told about his child to be factual. However, he learned too late that detectives not only can, but often do lie in order to get the story that they want to hear, and prosecution witnesses now say that they agreed to testify only because of believing that Debra had done far more than the detectives or Levy had actual evidence of, and with Levy then managing to twist their statements concerning the imperfections of a young single mother into an account of a beastly parent that felt no love or devotion for her child which was not the truth.
Even that Debra had previously refused to give up her son to her sister and was struggling to properly support him on her own was somehow turned in an act of wickedness. When other young mothers who fight to raise their own child would be praised by the majority among us, the decision helped to condemn Debra, with Levy twisting the story to fit his needs. In fact, according to an article that appeared in Justice Denied Magazine it was not so difficult for detectives and Levy to exploit the bad blood not only between in-laws, but as well between her and her sister, Sandy Picinpaugh, and her father, Sam Sadek.
Sadek had promised Renate that she would regret her decision to divorce him, and as the article describes Debra remained with her mother after the bitter divorce, but Sandy would go to live with her father after being caught forging Renate’s checks. There was already a family divide. Yet, the article goes on to explain how Sandy and her father were harassed into cooperating past any point that they intended or actually any point that allowed them to be truthful in their testimony.
Sadly, the events leading up to Debra’s arrest began, when Renate left her daughter to return to Switzerland and Debra met her husband Mark at a bar in Phoenix. Mark was a biker and Debra was cute, youthful and too easily infatuated with the nice looking tough guy who made her feel special. So, like many other young women, she made the mistake of believing that love can conquer all and they married. Christopher soon came of the union. However, according to Debra they also soon divorced, when the full extent of Mark’s drug and alcohol use came to light.
Things were not as she had expected, with Debra at times working two low-paying jobs to keep the bills paid, as Mark continued to frequent the bars. Things were rocky and did not change, though Debra admits to hoping that her pregnancy would persuade her husband to accept responsibility. However, she relates that it did not, and as Debra’s father had been toward her mother, Mark is reported to have been incredibly hostile after Debra filing for divorce. Things were soon out of hand, including his attacking Debra and threatening to kidnap Christopher. Then, after his taking her keys to leave her and the child stranded in the middle of the night, he had finally gone farther than Debra could tolerate.
She was forced to call one of her sister’s prior friends, Jim Styers, that night to get off the streets with her small son, and she made up her mind that she was ready to escape the fear of Mark’s harassment once and for all. So, when Styers offered as a friend to help her, Debra accepted. After all, he frequently attended church, did not use drugs or alcohol and was polite and helpful. Debra was comfortable with the seemingly cordial man and accepted his offer that she and her son live in his apartment, until such time that she could make other arrangements. What Styers had offered her was the chance to start anew, which she eagerly did.
Debra had the chance to change the life that her and her son lived and she worked toward that goal, with things at Styers seeming fine except for reoccurring conflicts with his friend, Roger Scott, who resented Debra’s presence. As for Styers, he took Debra’s part where Scott was concerned, and it was reported by Debra and others including his neighbors that though it was discovered after trial he suffered severe mental and emotional problems after his service in Vietnam and a later head injury, Styers was by all outward appearance a wonderful friend to Debra and role model for Christopher. No one, least of all Debra, who was comfortable with his company foresaw any problems.
Then, in November of 1989 Debra told Styers that she had found an apartment in Tempe. She had a new job to look forward to, a descent home for her and Christopher, and had only a few weeks earlier obtained a restraining order against Mark. That order had followed a final scene between the two after Debra finding Christopher in the unsafe environment during a visit with his father. Then after the initial incident, Mark began stalking Styer’s apartment and making threats. Consequently, determined to stop the fear she lived with, Debra had filed for an order, and the judge hearing her evidence ruled in her favor.
Left feeling that she was finally safe from her ex and could go on with her life, Debra excitedly looked forward to her new life, and did so as single mother headed in the right direction. In fact, Debra had made it too the place that so many young people struggle for years to achieve, and was to soon begin a job in which she would become an insurance underwriter. After working her way through different companies to gain the knowledge that she needed, and to find the one company willing to help her obtain her goals, Debra was there. She had finally reached the golden ring, and her and her son’s future was full of promise. She had eagerly accepted the new position and things were definitely looking up as she was preparing to move to her new apartment, with her feeling that she finally had the means to protect herself and Christopher from the past.
Yet, according to Saldate and Levy, Debra threw away all that she had worked for to gain what would have remained from the small insurance policy after she paid a funeral home, and for the other expenses attached to a burial. However, the facts include that on December 2, 1989 just after her telling Styers that she was moving, Debra Milke’s life was to be shattered first by the death of her son, and then by an ambitious detective and prosecutor who seem to have cared less for justice than achieving a conviction.
According to Debra, the tragedy began when Styers asked to borrow her car to go to a local mall to run errands and her four year old son Christopher asked excitedly to go along to see Santa. Debra without concern had agreed to the boy accompanying Styers, after her roommate okayed the request, with the child accompanying Jim not unusual. As area residents reported Styers was wonderful with all children, and got along well with Christopher.  
Debra was unconcerned for the boy's safety, hugged her child, and sent him along with a trusted friend not knowing that she would never see him alive again. Nothing was out of the ordinary until a few hours later when Styers approached a police officer at the mall to say that Christopher was missing. Nonetheless, after that report, the saga that led to Debra’s worst nightmare began.
That first officer later reported that he was immediately suspicious of Styers‘s nervous behavior and inconsistent stories. Styers according to the account was disconcerted and anxious, and as a result, he was taken to the Phoenix Police Department for questioning. However, police were soon looking beyond just Styers, and picked up Scott to be interviewed as well.
The investigation was underway and Debra’s nightmare growing, as within two hours Scott confessed and took police officers to the edge of Phoenix, at Ninety-Ninth Street just north of Happy Valley Road where either he or Styers had taken Christopher into a dry creek bed and executed the child by gunshots to the head. Notably, Scott from the start was a fountain of information concerning the crime including that besides admitting his involvement, he allegedly implicated Styers and Debra along the way to the site of the execution.
Strangely, however, this portion of Scott’s confession again comes by Saldate’s word alone. Even with another officer in the car, when Scott allegedly confessed, the account is not given in the second officer’s report of the ride, with only Saldate seemingly prudent enough to record such crucial information. Yet, the unsubstantiated confessions are only a part of the dubious nature of the whole affair. Unbelievably, the investigation was so shallow and left so much in question that neither detectives nor the prosecutor ever sought to establish which of the two men actually did the shooting.
Jim would not admit to taking part in the crime, nor did he implicate Debra at any point. Rather, Scott’s word alone was accepted as the basis of building a case against both Debra and Jim, though Scott was the one with immediate information to share regarding the murder, and the one who led police to the body.
In the end, a horrid scenario was presented to the jury in seeking to convict a young mother. Yet, they were never made aware among other things that Jim was a Nam Vet who had ended up shooting and killed an unarmed child that was attempting to climb onto the back of a military truck. Jim was paying for his past including his suffering recurring nightmares and required to take at least Lithium and Navane at the time of the murder. Debra and others who knew him were not aware before or at the time of the trial of these or other facts, but they do leave the case to be viewed in a far different light than that presented by Levy.
For one, it can be easily assumed that Saldate’s extremely aggressive manner could have easily thrown Styers off balance, but still, he did not implicate Debra or admit guilt himself. Though Saldate was certain to have hoped that Jim would break and to have pushed hard to reach that goal, only Scott was to claim that Debra who he was known to dislike and not get along well with was a part of the evil conspiracy. Scott did not like her, and after Styers shunning Scott in favor of his new roommate, Scott had every reason to want to get back at them both.
Styers, as Debra, claimed that he was innocent from the start, and while most would condemn him for the mere story told of the child in Vietnam, Styers is a veteran who lived an experience that the most of us will never be able to comprehend. Supposedly, he was in the wrong for the shooting, but without the facts of the moment and the facts of the battle that he had just been through, he should not be merely condemned for another crime. Whatever he did in Nam, Styers came home so haunted by his experiences as to require medication many years later to merely try to still the horrific visions that continued to perpetuate themselves within his mind. So, whatever the situation, it is certain that he not only carried guilt and remorse, there is every indication that if Styers is indeed guilty, careful mental evaluation should have excluded him as being death eligible.
In fact, the team that convicted Styers and Debra did so as ignoring the animosity that existed and Saldate and the other detectives chose to immediately take the word of the one of three suspects whose guilt was certain, and take the investigation in the direction that his statement led them or they managed to lead him, as looking to no other possibility. Their fate’s were sealed, with Saldate becoming the lead detective on the case and reporting to his superiors the day after Scott’s confession that he wanted to interview Debra.
Then, though the detective later denied that he planned to arrest the young mother before ever speaking to her, his reports pertaining to the case indicate the decision was made before his ever arriving in Florence to meet Debra for the first time. Debra was not just a suspect, she was clearly a target before there had been any sort of actual investigation, and considering the circumstance created by Saldate that day, it is easy to understand the outrage that the young woman must have felt as she was cuffed and placed under arrest.
The scenario was actually heartless, with Debra anxious for the meeting and not realizing Saldate’s intent. No one had told her anything, only requested that she be at the station in Florence. So naturally, she was hopeful that she was about to be reunited with her son. Sitting at the Florence station, Debra was wholly unprepared for what was to take place, as she witnessed Saldate’s methods first hand, even as being told that her son had been the victim of a killer’s merciless act. Saldate was ruthless, immediately plunging into an interrogation and using his tactics of intimidation. Even as the hysterical mother was trying to grasp the reality of her son's death, he was sitting within a breath's distance and bent to the height of the smaller frame before him, as trying to force the hysterical mother to submit to his commands. Then, after thirty minutes he suddenly decided he had a confession in order to provide the grounds for arrest, though Debra was unaware this was the case.
The way that meeting came about, and then the way that it was handled, confirms that Saldate went into things with the predetermined plan to convict Debra and raises many questions as to the credibility of his report of a confession and the rest of his investigation as well. It actually adds credence to Debra’s denial of any involvement in the murder, including that though other detectives from Phoenix who were capable of doing the interview were at the station long before Saldate, for some reason they were ordered by Saldate not to speak to Debra concerning the case. She was instead left anxious for news and waiting for the arrival of the only officer to ever be able to relate that there was enough evidence to convict her.
Not surprisingly, no other officer was allowed to repeat the interrogation, nor to be present when Saldate was with Debra. Saldate alone heard Debra's story which seems strange since he could have merely repeated the interrogation had someone else spoken to her, and in a legitimate investigation it would have been repeated as a matter of routine. The statement would have also been written out and signed by the suspect, or as Saldate's superiors had instructed Debra's words not have been merely paraphrased, they would have been recorded, and with at least one other detective present to witness the confession.
Still, Saldate’s investigations were never routine, and this one was to be no exception. To begin with if the plan was not in place to arrest Debra, there was no justifiable reason to hold her at the station until his arrival with others available to speak to her. There was no warrant for her arrest and the only evidence was the word of a man who admitted to being involved with the murder. There was nothing else to connect her and plainly Levy would have been hard pressed to convince a judge there was grounds for her to be taken into custody without the confession that Saldate just coincidentally got.
So, with this being the case, Debra was left sitting in a police station waiting on the one officer that she supposedly ever made a confession to, and the only officer that she supposedly felt compelled to come onto in hopes of being saved. The same officer whose integrity was more than once found to fall short of what it should have been during his supposed public service and the only one by chance to make a fanfare appearance in Florence. In fact, Saldate’s show for the press makes a statement all its own, as even though he was going to interview a woman against whom he had no evidence to obtain a warrant, the detective stepped into the limelight.
Certainly intended as a media gimmick and confirming that he felt his mission was urgent, Saldate stepped out of a helicopter at the Florence Police Station, rather than having used a car for what would have been an easy drive for police. Then, the detective began to bait for the media’s feeding frenzy that ensued concerning the murderous mommy story. In fact, just before his retirement, the less than admirable detective grabbed his five minutes of fame as Arizona tax-payers footed the bill on his sky adventure.
Then, added to the coincidences, Saldate was to become the hero, with his reporting that the grieving mother merely bared her soul to him without consideration or quarrel. She allegedly admitted everything concerning her involvement in the murder, with his report going so far as to include that Debra was discussing failed family relations, her beliefs concerning God, the conspiracy to kill the boy, her motive for murder and more. Supposedly, she provided him with a full confession, with Saldate asserting that it was too productive a half hour for a crusty investigator with a less than likeable demeanor.
This is especially so in considering that the thirty minutes as well included Debra’s attempts to control several bouts of hysteria that he also speaks of, and includes that Debra began by lying, but Saldate quickly convinced her as he had done Allison and Scott that he simply would not tolerate lies. So again, the declaration of guilt began from there. Interestingly, Debra has denied the confession from the start, with her maintaining that she was not aware of her supposed admission to murder until a few days later, when she finally saw her court appointed attorney, Kenneth Ray.
Of course, counsel should have been present during her questioning, but the offer was not made, nor Debra’s rights read to her beforehand to assure that she was protected from Saldate’s tactics. Instead, she was not aware that she was a suspect when Saldate began, so she was alone as the game was played in Florence, and by the time Ray became involved, Levy assured that the press was writing Debra’s conviction in stone.
She was immediately notorious, and public outcry was for a lynching, though no one seemed to stop to consider that a mother alleged to be heartless and calculated enough to have her child murdered, had a few hours afterward just simply made the decision to cast her entire life away with consideration of the consequences. Instead, as in many others cases Saldate was involved in, the facts and all commonsense would simply be ignored.
Then, with the descent law-abiding citizens demanding justice for the four-year old, the voters that prosecutors and judges need to look to in an effort to keep their careers moving forward, Debra was put through a one-stop proceeding that never allowed her adequate investigation or competent counsel. The twenty-six year old mother whose prison psychiatric staff believes her to be innocent was for all practical purposes sentenced before she ever spent the first moment in the courtroom despite the lack of solid evidence against her.
It is clear that Debra’s life meant nothing to those in the criminal justice system in Phoenix. Outrageously, with the lives of three suspects in the balance, the prosecution’s team never so much as attempted to uncover the details needed to allow a complete understanding of the crime before they sought conviction. Instead, they built a case on Scott’s story, despite his seeming the most likely executioner of a child and the distinct possibility that he did act without Debra or Styers’ knowledge. As in Levy’s other cases there is a string of oversights and seemingly deliberate mistakes which helped to cover the truth. This included that due to detective oversight, Scott was never tested for gunpowder residue which seriously handicapped his co-defendants' defense by disallowing the opportunity for them to go after Scott’s credibility with the intensity that could have been possible if he had been clearly established as the actual killer. It certainly cannot be ignored that the detectives’ decision concerning testing is flagrantly erroneous and notably, the oversight helped to assure that Levy's star witness could not be totally discredited.
Of course, Ray, though more experienced in capital cases than Eldon’s former defense counsel, Edward Susee, had still only represented one other person in such a case and would not receive the necessary resources through the courts. Ray could not even fully cross-examine witnesses following sustained objections by Levy, with the judge clearly biased and disallowing crucial defense testimony. Plus, the judge denied him the opportunity to obtain and call witnesses to rebut the character assassination that Levy used to establish motive, though the witnesses were not on the list provided to the defense after his request for disclosure.
Rather, by waiting to the last minute to add them, Levy kept Ray from having time to adequately do interviews, and prepare. Ray, as Susee, even if he had actually put forth the necessary effort was still prevented from having the necessary time to locate information that may have prevented conviction by the prosecutor’s tricks and the judge condoning his actions. Levy’s career was actually advancing due to his hocus-pocus, though he publicly expressed doubt as to Debra’s guilt even as he set the stage to take her life.
There is no question, Debra’s case, as others, simply leaves too many glaring uncertainties. There was not a shred of physical evidence or even strong circumstantial evidence to connect her to the crime. In fact, had detectives or Ray done their jobs, there was a far more plausible murder theory to consider, if one looks to Scott as the actual killer. As Levy was certain to note, had Scott been clearly established as the killer, the most likely suspect in a conspiracy becomes not Debra but her ex-husband. This fact is obvious had Saldate been honest in his investigation and pursued the fact that Milke implicated himself from the beginning of his interview in several ways. This included that he immediately pointed the finger at Scott, who he had known and associated with before the murder. Then, during his interviews, he just tossed out to detectives many other facts that pertained to the case, like he was tossing bones to a starving dog.
Milke should not have known anything of his son’s fate at the start of that interview, however, he was a wealth of information that implicated Scott as the killer. There were strong indicators that the father of the child actually knew more than he was telling police starting with his admission that he had been spending time in the desert shooting guns. Plus, in his initial questioning on the phone from Texas, Milke is reported to have been quickly referred to Scott as someone that Styers knew and did not trust. Then, later in the investigation, he revealed that he had actually been at the same spot where Christopher was found with Scott and Styers a few weeks earlier. Remarkably, Milke also just happens to place a gun the caliber that was used to execute the boy in Scott's possession, though the gun had very recently been purchased. Yet, detectives still disregarded the possibility that Milke not Debra had plotted to kill the child.
In looking to the supposed perceptions of detectives, Mark Milke, whose record reflects that he was not only drug and alcohol addicted, but out of control, just by mere chance had the means to allow him to be out of state and in Texas at the time of his son’s murder. It can only be presumed that this twist of fate alone provided Saldate a valid reason to ignore his possible culpability in the crime, with Levy also seemingly disregarding the evidence indicating that he may have been the actual perpetrator of the crime. Whatever the reason for their oversights, rather than facing an investigation, Debra's ex was allowed to assist in destroying their victim's character.
Somehow, the man who had terrified Debra and their young son enough for the courts to intervene at her request in the months before was allowed to play the role of the distraught father wronged by his ex-wife. He was depicted as a victim, despite his history of Driving Under the Influence, drug abuse and repeated threats to harm Debra and Christopher that suggest intensely aggressive behavior, and led to his being kept away from her and his child.
Admittedly, a little chance happening can be regarded as coincidence during an investigation. However, the extent of the phenomenon with Mark Milke in this case is far more than should have been ignored by either Saldate or Levy. There was just too much overlooked and perverted to fit Levy’s needs, with nothing fitting logic and the most obvious evidence merely ignored.
Sandy has even revealed that she attempted to testify truthfully, only to find herself facing the twisted version of her statement that Saldate had provided to Levy in one of his infamous paraphrased reports. The sister, who was not only misled regarding Debra's culpability in the crime, also faced the threat of being thrown in jail if she failed to testify, though she was pregnant, very near to delivery and ill. She reports that the harassment of her was so bad that she insisted her doctor induce labor early to allow her to be able to make the trip from Wyoming to Phoenix a week after the baby was born. She feared that they would indeed incarcerate her if she failed to be in court. Saldate had even forced her to give an interview just before trial despite the stress to her and her unborn child, and though his questions were not what one would expect. Rather, according to Sandy’s statement to attorneys, he asked no questions concerning the actual facts of the case. He was merely digging for dirt to use against Debra in Levy's smear campaign.
To make matters worse the details she provided were presented to the court in the way that Saldate interpreted them, though they still did not reflect the sordid story that Levy wished to present. So, Sandy found herself facing a prosecutor who broadsided her with completely unfamiliar questions and expected her to respond despite his embellishing upon the facts available to him. She was to discover that Saldate’s twisting her statements was not the end of the duo’s trickery, as Levy managed to further distort her statements, and also cut her answers short to prevent her having the opportunity to correct the false impressions the jury was being left with. Too late she seems to have came to understand the tactics that Levy uses to gain conviction. Sandy helped to condemn her sister to death, though she was to come to deeply regret having doubted her, when faced with the actual truth of the case rather than the distortions and falsehoods of hard evidence that Saldate had initially presented to her.
Too many seem to have realized too late what Levy and Saldate were up to, leaving Debra to pay the price for their deception. Perhaps, others feel that she is guilty, but it does not seem likely, with no more conclusively demonstrated by the actual evidence than Debra was naive in her choices of those she attached herself to, and she was a young mother who was not perfect in that role, nor in her life. Still, she was making the right changes and trying to improve things for her and her son. Levy merely succeeded in making a young single woman seem capable of sacrificing her child by using a bag of tricks that is all too common in the cases that he prosecuted, including his admittedly pursuing the death penalty without being certain of the guilt of his chosen.

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