An Innocent Woman on Death-Row for 22 Years – Debra Milke

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Debra Milke source google images

Debra Milke, née Sadeik, was born in Berlin, Germany, to a U.S. military family. In 1965, the Sadeiks moved back to the U.S., where Debra attended high school and college.
In April 1983, Debra met Mark Milke in a biker bar in Arizona. Debra and Mark were married in December 1984 and the following October, Debra gave birth to her only child, Christopher Conan Milke. By that time, Mark had become an alcoholic and a serious drug addict. One day, during a particularly violent altercation, he threw Debra and the little boy out of the house. They ended up moving into an apartment with Jim Styers, a man Debra knew through her sister. Debra and Mark were divorced in 1988.
Styers, a Vietnam veteran, had some mental issues, suffering from recurring nightmares of the killings in which he had participated, and he had a sleazy friend, a heavy alcoholic, named Roger Scott.
On December 1st, 1989, Debra took the young Christopher to the Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix to see Santa Claus. The next morning, on December 2nd, Styers asked Debra to let him borrow her Toyota for a trip back to the mall, and Christopher asked if he could come for the ride. He was hoping to see Santa again. And this is where the drama began.

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Early in the afternoon on December 2nd, Styers, apparently in distress, called Debra on the phone to tell her that he had lost Christopher in the mall. He asked if the boy had called home to tell her where he is. Hearing her negative response, Styers insisted that she should call the police. Debra went into action, her concern for her only child and the love she could not bear to lose growing.

A police officer came to the home and agreed to stay by the phone in case Christopher should call. Being a clever four-year-old, Christopher had memorised and could dial his mother’s phone number. Needing to be with family, Debra hitched a ride to her father’s residence in Perryville, near Phoenix, where he worked as a guard at the local prison. Debra’s younger sister, Sandy, was still living with him.
When Debra arrived, she was told the Phoenix police wanted to talk to her. The sheriff picked her up and brought her to the police station in Perryville, where she was brought into an examination room. Soon after, a large, heavy man arrived in rolled-up shirtsleeves and a black tie hanging loose around an open collar, a prototype of the “red-necked bully”. Detective Armando Saldate, an ambitious, ruthless go-getter had a personnel record which showed a number of instances of misconduct, including lying under oath, a fact which would not be revealed during the conviction trial to come.
Saldate’s ensuing interrogation was not witnessed by anyone, it was not recorded or overheard, nor was his report signed by Debra Milke. He even went so far as to declare that he threw away his notes shortly after the interview. However, during the later trial, under oath, he stated that Debra had confessed to her role in the plot to murder her son.
Debra Milke offered a vastly different story of the interrogation and denied that she had confessed to any role. Saldate claimed that Roger Scott had told him that Milke had been involved in a plot to kill her son, but neither Scott nor Styers testified in Milke’s trial.

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Prosecutors floated a likely motive, a $5,000 life insurance policy she had taken out on the child, but Milke had obtained the policy as part of the employee benefits package from the insurance agency where she worked. Apart from Saldate’s testimony, no other witnesses or direct evidence linked Debra Milke to the crime. The trial was no more than a he-said/she-said contest between Saldate and Milke.
Debra Milke sat silently, not allowed to speak, not even to cry, numb within her own thoughts. “I had to be quiet. But everything in my head was screaming: Liar, you’re a goddamned liar! He was so overbearing, so unbelievably arrogant. And he was allowed to describe in detail all the things I had supposedly confessed to him.”
Multiple opportunities were missed to challenge the presented “evidence” by Debra’s inept court-appointed defence lawyer, who counselled Debra not to cry out or to challenge, but to try to maintain a calm, collected demeanor. No doubt, to the judge and jury, preconditioned by the graphic delivery of Saldate’s concocted findings, the silent acceptance of the accused appeared to be the expression of a guilty person.
In October 1990, Debra Milke was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, child abuse, and first-degree murder. On January 18, 1991, she was sentenced to death.

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Styers and Scott were charged and tried separately. Both were convicted of first degree murder and also sentenced to death.
Shortly after Christmas in 1997, Debra received a notification that her execution date had been officially set for the 29th of January, 1998. With it, the Arizona justice system issued its final declaration of judgment without any further possible appeal. However, Debra’s lawyer made a last-ditch effort to prevent the lethal injection and filed a writ of habeas corpus. The answer to this last question could save Debra’s life – were her human rights violated in the trial?
Over the course of years and two failed appeals, Debra Milke remained convinced that she would be free one day, that the truth of her innocence would be recognised. She educated herself about the American justice system by reading the daily Arizona Republic and, in that paper, found Mike Kimerer, a successful defense attorney. Debra wrote to her mother, asking her to contact the lawyer, to ask him to take her case. Kimerer accepted and worked on it for 15 years.

On March 23, 2015, after 22 years on death row, Milke was exonerated. Judge Rosa Mroz threw out her conviction and dismissed her case, ruling that she had not received a fair trial. It held that Milke’s rights had been violated by the failure to turn over Saldate’s personnel file to the defense. That file included eight cases where confessions, indictments or convictions had been thrown out because detective Armando Saldate had either lied under oath or violated the suspects’ rights during interrogations.

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Throughout this tenacious fight for human rights, had a new legal ruling been created whereby an American lawyer is forced to submit all evidence in court, including evidence which would benefit the defendant, Debra Milke’s case would have been dismissed long ago. In my mind, there is still a fundamental problem with the U.S. criminal justice system, which is due to an ingrained culture that has not evolved in its democratic governing principles, unlike European states that have advanced from the barbarism of the Middle Ages to a more liberal but orderly society, and where the death penalty has been eliminated without effecting an increase in crime.
As reported in an article titled “The American Nightmare” in the German Magazine DER SPIEGEL, Issue Nr. 14/4.4.2015, page 85: “In no other country in the world are there so many citizens in prison awaiting to be executed than in the United States of America. Close to 3,000 inmates are waiting to be poisoned, gassed, hanged, or to be electrocuted in an electric chair, or otherwise just shot.”
On the other hand, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre, since 1973, 151 inmates have been released from death row and given their freedom as a result of an appeals process, where errors of fact or the violation of citizens’ rights have been made in judicial proceedings. It is ludicrous that the murder of a child could be committed by the mother simply for the sake of cashing in a negligible life insurance policy. It takes a criminal mind to construe such a motive, and a stupid mind to insufficiently scrutinize such a preposterous suggestion.

It is only possible to cultivate and enlighten the minds of the people of that great country by providing equality in access to higher education, and providing equal opportunities, particularly to women who have the good sense to study hard and who have the potential to become excellent lawyers, negotiators for peace, and world leaders.

Debra Milke listens to two windchimes at sunrise, one for her mother and one for Christopher.

Debra Milke listens to two windchimes at sunrise, one for her mother and one for Christopher.

The Semantics of Genocide – April 24, 2015 – 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

The eternal flame at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan, Ar

The eternal flame at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan

The Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary defines ‘genocide’ as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group”, such as the Nazis’ attempt to exterminate the Jews in the 1940s. Today, however, we must commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which was the inspiration for the coining of the very word ‘genocide’ by Raphael Lemkin in 1943 or 1944.
Despite Obama’s campaign promise in 2008, that as President he would “recognize the Armenian Genocide”, the White House issued a carefully worded statement at a high-level administration meeting with Armenian groups that avoided using the term ‘genocide’, obviously for political reasons, for fear of offending their Turkish ally. On the other hand, Pope Francis used the word ‘genocide’ to refer to the mass killings of Armenians by the Turks without hesitation or retraction.
In my mind, ‘genocide’ is a specific and considered war effort to exterminate a declared enemy. An act is genocidal when it is carried out not only to obliterate the fighting force of a nation, but to indiscriminately include the killing of women and children. Women and children are essential for the survival and future of a nation and, therefore, require special attention and protection, attention and protection which the criminal and barbaric mind dismisses.

Genoarmenia

Genoarmenia

During World War II, the mass destructions of the cities of Coventry in England and Dresden in Germany, and the USA’s atomic bombings on Japan, to call a spade a spade, were genocidal acts. The murder of so many women and children in that war cannot be justified with a claimed goal of shortening the conflict or minimizing casualties. In plain truth, it was simple, inhuman carnage. And in the Iraq war, targeted city bombings caused the deaths of countless women and children, deaths that were labelled ‘collateral damage’, a nice, sanitized term, an excuse for unintentional but unavoidable acts of war.
Let us not be deceived by politically correct terminology, by semantics. The words used to describe calculated acts of warfare which include the slaughter of women and children cannot gloss over the face that they are a disgrace to humanity, and whether they are committed intentionally or carelessly, they are pointedly ‘genocidal’.
It all comes down to the persistent sexist attitude of men, considering women as second-class citizens. Instead of granting women, not only equal status in all facets of everyday life, but a superior status in politics to curb the limited male ability to find peaceful solutions, men engage in macho altercations which lead to wars, wars which women in power could and would have avoided. Let men become the champions and guardians of women, at home as well as in enemy camps. We desperately need their enlightenment to turn the hearts of belligerent men to the singular, necessary goal of achieving universal peace, peace which the United Nations has so far, dismally, failed to achieve.

Photos: Goggle images.

Home at Last

Salzburg, Austria.

Salzburg, Austria & Untersberg. source Google images

“Beware the Ides of March” – this phrase has always filled me with a sense of foreboding. I lost two of the dearest people in my life in the month of March, one of which was my wife of 64 years. Since her passing and until recently, I kept Geraldine’s ashes in an urn in my bedroom.
Although she never complained about it openly, Geraldine had always been homesick for her beloved Salzburg. She suffered from separation anxiety when her mother, with her two daughters, left Berlin in the 1930’s, then were evacuated to a village in Austria during the War. When we were married, we moved to Hannover, and from there to Canada. It was only many years later that we were able to visit Salzburg again, but did so several times.
On one specific occasion, Geraldine and I rode a gondola up the Untersberg Mountain. She had difficulty breathing in the thin air, so we made our way slowly, just the two of us, to the peak to marvel at the panoramic view of the beautiful city below and the surrounding landscape. Taking in this breath-taking view of Salzburg and the Alps, Geraldine mentioned, casually, that she would be happy to rest in that spot for eternity.
Since her passing, my thoughts drifted every so often to the question of choosing a final resting place for Geraldine’s ashes. My parent’s family grave in the Central Cemetery of Salzburg was, of course, an option, but my father’s second wife had long ago raised objections to that prospect for reasons known only to herself. So, where? I thought, “I am getting along in years. If I don’t act now, there will be no proper end to the story of the life of an angelic woman. I must fulfill her final wish!”
***
It so happens that I had promised to visit my daughter, Victoria, in Berlin for her birthday this past March, along with Chris, my older son, as my travel companion. It would be an opportunity to introduce him to his cousins, nieces and nephews, as well. Chris is a very spiritual person. He prays daily, attends church regularly, and communicates with God through dreams, receiving guiding messages. In one such dream, Geraldine appeared, leading Chris to see me. As Chris related in an e-mail…
“That she was escorting me personally meant that there was an important reason for my visit. I had not seen my father since before this dream, so it seems that my mother wanted me to undertake something with my father, like this upcoming trip. Why would this be important to my mother? It could be that she wanted me to give my father one last gift of a trip to his birthplace. She knew he would not go alone, so she recruited me.
However, as I write this, I recall that in my mother’s Will it is stated that she wanted her ashes returned to her birthplace of Salzburg, Austria. My father was waffling on this; he said that maybe I should wait until he dies and then ‘do with our ashes what you will’.
It could be that this trip was important for my mother because she wanted us to return her ashes to Austria. This made no sense to me because God is everywhere, so where one’s ashes are located is unimportant. Perhaps, then, it would be for the sake of making a symbolic gesture.
I hesitate to write this, but several months after my mother died, my father fell passionately in love again. Alas, this second love also passed away. Curiously, the only memento of my mother in my father’s house is her ashes. Is it perhaps possible she wanted to remove all trace of herself? If any of this can possibly be true, then I want to believe that she did this as her last act of love for my father; from the spirit world, she is sending the message that she is releasing my father from his commitment to her. My mother was such a loving woman that perhaps she wanted to show the extent of her love by finally giving up what was always most important in her life – her husband and her family.
I like to think my musings are true because it tells me that even after death we can influence the lives of others through love. If this was a conscious act of love, it is truly remarkable to me and, I think, closely approaches the love God feels for us!”

Spurred on by this ‘message’, I instantly booked flights for Chris and myself, and arranged for Euro train passes for Germany and Austria, as well. I told Chris that he should pack his mother’s ashes in his luggage. We would bring them to the place that Geraldine fell in love with, on the top of mount Untersberg, where rain and melting snow would carry her into the earth for her eternal rest.
I almost joined Geraldine on this trip. Shortly after we arrived, I fainted in Victoria’s Berlin apartment and had to be taken to hospital with a contagious intestinal virus. But, against doctor’s orders, I refused to stay longer than three days; I had already cancelled a number of family visits due to my illness. Chris and I did finally fly to Vienna to visit my late brother’s family for a couple of days, then took the train to Salzburg.
With an altitude of 6,473 feet, Untersberg is part of a northern spur of the Alps, just ten miles from Salzburg. In The Sound of Music movie, the song The Hills are Alive is probably referring to Untersberg. (The photograph above depicts a view of the Landmark Fortress as seen from its peak, a view Geraldine and I grew up with, a large part of wonderful, unforgettable memories.)
With my oldest niece, Elisabeth, and Chris with my wife’s ashes in a rucksack, I boarded the gondola for its 1.6-mile assent to the top of the snow-covered mountain. We disembarked, a bit daunted by the 100 meters still left to climb. Hanging on the safety rope, I managed to reach the mountain-top restaurant, utterly exhausted, succumbing to the thin March air. I urged Chris to continue on with Geraldine’s ashes to the peak, where he could scatter them under the dwarf pine trees on the south face, or, if possible, let them loose to the winds to let her blanket the summit.
As Chris began his accent, I realized with horror that in his distraction of keeping his precarious footing, he was climbing not toward the top of the mountain’s face, but rather to the edge of it! He had somehow managed to maneuver himself to the wrong side of the safety railing! Elisabeth and I began to scream out for him to get back to the other side of the guide rope and railing; I had visions of him falling off the cliff, plummeting down hundreds of feet to the unsuspecting cows in the fields below.
Thank God, he heard me and found the right trail. After a moment, he rounded a corner and disappeared from my sight, and I sat daydreaming, envisioning a solemn and inspiring moment – the majesty of the Alps, the deafening silence that can only ever be heard on the top of such an awesome mountain, my visionary son fulfilling his mother’s final wish, a fine mist rising magically from the urn to be carried on the wind by the angels, Geraldine at peace…
Alas, such scenes are only found in movies. Chris returned safely and showed me the picture he had taken of my beloved wife in her final resting place.

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“Ah, well,” I thought, “When the snow melts, she will become one with her beloved mountain.”
At least, she was home.