Mother Debra Milke cleared after spending 22 years on death row for murder of her own son

The 51-year-old tells a press conference she still has no answers on how her four-year-old boy died 'because there wasn't a proper investigation'

A mother has been cleared after spending 22 years on Arizona’s death row for the murder of her own four-year-old son.

Debra Milke is now 51 years old, and after the case against her was formally dismissed on Monday lawyers said she had spent nearly half of her life in a “living nightmare”.

Two men are now in jail for the death of Ms Milke’s son Christopher, who was told he was going to meet Santa Claus in the winter of 1989 when he was taken out into the desert and shot.

The case against his mother rested largely on claims by the case’s lead investigator, Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate, that she had confessed to him during unrecorded interrogations.

Ms Milke staunchly refuted that claim, and at a press conference on Tuesday responded quickly to the suggestion that prosecutors still believe she had a role in her son’s death with the question: “Based on what?”

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Debra Milke (L) is consoled by her attorney Lori Voepel during a news conference in Phoenix, Arizona on 24 March

It was the first time she had spoken at length publicly since a federal appeals court overturned her conviction two years ago. That process revealed that Detective Saldate had a history of misconduct, including cases where he had either lied under oath or failed to properly observe the legal rights of suspects during questioning.

One of the men now in jail for Christopher’s murder was Ms Milke’s roommate, and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery insisted this week that he believed the conviction could have been made to stand regardless of Detective Saldate’s credibility.

Prosecutors sought to retry Ms Milke, but the state's highest court rejected that bid last week, leading to the case's dismissal.

Speaking at the press conference, the mother said she still doesn't know the reason for her son's killing “because there wasn't a proper investigation”.

At one point, she was asked about a box of ammunition police found in her purse when they first spoke with her, which was of the same caliber as the bullets used to kill Christopher.

She said she found the bullets in a roommate's clothes while doing laundry, and put them in her purse. “Clearly, I forgot they were in my purse,” Milke said. “That's the answer.”

She read out a statement saying she suffered two tragedies — the death of her child and the detective's false claim that she confessed to killing him.

Additional reporting by agencies

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