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U.S. Attorney's Office won't investigate Debra Milke's accuser

The letter sent to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office from the United States Attorney's Office is shown. (KTAR Photo/Sandra Haros)

PHOENIX -- The United States Attorney's Office will not pursue an investigation against a detective whose testimony put a woman in jail for nearly two decades, according to a letter sent to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said it declined to investigate because charges could not be pursued against former Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate, Jr. due to federal statutes of limitations.

It is unknown if other agencies will pursue charges against Saldate.

Saldate testified at Debra Milke's trial that she confessed to having her son killed in a closed interrogation room, but the jury had only his word to go on. The interview wasn't recorded, and Saldate had destroyed his notes. Milke denied that she had confessed, but the detective's testimony was crucial to her conviction.

Without the confession, ``there's really no case,'' Milke's attorney, Michael Kimerer, said outside court Thursday.

Doubts about Saldate's honesty arose during Milke's appeals. The 9th Circuit concluded in March that prosecutors' failure to turn over evidence related to Saldate's credibility deprived Milke's attorneys of the chance to question his truthfulness before jurors.

``No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence, quite possibly tainted by dishonesty or overzealousness, to decide whether to take someone's life or liberty,'' Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote.

The court noted several instances in which judges threw out confessions or indictments because Saldate lied under oath and others in which cases were tossed out or confessions excluded because the detective violated the suspect's constitutional rights. Jurors at Milke's trial were not made aware of Saldate's dubious past.

The court ordered its clerk to send along copies of the opinion to federal authorities for ``possible investigation into whether Detective Saldate's conduct ... amounts to a pattern of violating the federally protected rights of Arizona residents.''

His attorney indicated Thursday that was at least partly why he advised his client to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Saldate has not returned telephone calls from The Associated Press.

Milke was convicted in 1990 for her role in the death of her 4-year-old son, Christopher. Authorities say she had him killed, in part, to keep him from her ex-husband. They say she dressed the boy in his favorite outfit in December 1989, telling him he was going to see a mall Santa Claus before handing him over to two men who took the child into the desert and shot him three times in the back of the head. Both men are currently on death row.

KTAR's Sandra Haros and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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