Debra Milke, the daughter of a German mother and American father, was convicted by a court in Arizona in 1990 for plotting to have her four-year-old son killed.
The child had been taken on an outing by a man then living with Milke on the understanding, she claimed, that he was going to see Santa Claus in a shopping centre. However the man and an accomplice drove the child to a remote ravine, where he was shot dead. Both men were sentenced to death.
Milke had always maintained her innocence. The Arizona court that convicted her in 1990 had relied solely on the testimony of a detective, who claimed she had confessed to the crime. No written or recorded evidence of the supposed confession has ever been produced and it has since emerged that the individual in question had a track record of lying under oath, as well as a history of other misconduct.
According to judge Alex Kozinski of the San Francisco Court of Appeals, Milke did not receive a fair trial and there was no evidence to suggest she had any involvement in the death of her son.
Kozinksi criticized prosecutors for remaining “unconstitutionally silent” about the detective's history of deceit. Since the conviction has been overturned, Milke will be released from prison unless the state pushes for a retrial.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has said he will personally argue on the state's behalf if the case goes to the US Supreme Court. In a written statement, he said that Milke had been found guilty of a "horrible crime" and that the Court of Appeals' decision “needs to be reversed.”
Neither Milke's defense team nor the jury in Arizona had been aware that previous judges had discarded four confessions made by the detective because of his history of lying under oath.