PHOENIX, March 24 (UPI) -- Debra Milke, who spent 22 years on death row in Arizona for the death of her 4-year-old son, had her murder charge thrown out soon after the prosecutor lost his final appeal.
Arizona Judge Rosa Mroz ruled on Monday that Milke, 51, is innocent and dismissed all charges. Milke is the second woman in the United States to be exonerated from death row. The state prosecutor lost the final appeal last week.
A monitoring bracelet was removed and the case against Milke is essentially over, according to her attorneys.
Milke was freed on bail in December after her conviction for arranging the 1989 murder of her son was dismissed. The state prosecutor vowed to appeal.
A state appeals court ruled the conduct of the prosecution in Milke's original trial was so outrageous that dismissing the case was the only remedy. Defense lawyers were not told at the time that a police officer who testified that Milke confessed to him had a history of misconduct.
Christopher Milke, 4, was shot in December 1989. Prosecutors said that his mother, hoping to collect insurance money, arranged with her roommate, James Styers, and a friend, Roger Scott, to kill the boy.
The two men were also sentenced to death. Investigators said Christopher was told he was going on a trip to see Santa Claus at a mall but was instead taken to the desert and shot.
Milke always denied killing her son and confessing to Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate. The confession was not recorded and no one else witnessed it.
The court was harsh in its description of the conduct of prosecutors in the case, calling it a "severe stain on the Arizona justice system."
"Our analysis is based entirely on whether double jeopardy applies to bar Milke's retrial in this case, and we express no opinion regarding her actual guilt or innocent," the opinion said.
The judges cited a number of cases where Saldate questioned suspects under dubious conditions, including one strapped to a gurney with a possible skull fracture and another who was in intensive care.
They also cited incidents where Saldate allegedly gave false or misleading testimony to grand juries and a 1973 incident where he was disciplined for offering a female driver favorable treatment after a traffic stop in return for sexual favors.
Frances Burns contributed to this report.