By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - A Phoenix woman who was cleared after spending more than two decades on death row for murdering her young son slammed the criminal justice system that stole half her life and said on Tuesday she was always confident she would be exonerated.
In Debra Milke's first comments since a Maricopa County judge dismissed all charges against her this week, she stated again that she had "absolutely nothing" to do with the brutal killing of the 4-year-old boy in 1989.
"I always believed this day would come," Milke, 51, told a news conference, at times choking back tears. "I just didn't think it would have to take 25 years, 3 months and 14 days to rectify such a blatant miscarriage of justice."
Milke was convicted in 1990 for killing her son Christopher, who was dressed in his best outfit after being told her roommate would take him to meet Santa Claus at a local mall shortly before Christmas.
Instead, Milke's roommate, James Styers, and another man took the child to the desert where they shot him in the head and dumped his body in a secluded ravine.
Milke was accused of arranging the boy's murder and convicted largely due to a purported confession, recounted by a detective, that she has always said she never made, and which was never recorded nor witnessed.
A federal appeals court tossed out her conviction in March 2013, saying the prosecution had failed to disclose in court a long history of misconduct by the detective in question, including lying under oath. A request by prosecutors for a retrial was rejected by Arizona's top court last week.
At an emotional encounter with reporters on Tuesday, Milke talked about the sweet, affectionate son who she said had made others laugh, and she recalled his hugs, kisses, and whispers of "I love you, mommy."
"I live with an abiding sense of loss and a chunk of my heart is gone, but Christopher's spirit is with me always," she said.
She said her court victory had been a bittersweet win, and that she feared other innocent people could fall victim to a criminal justice system which she said can at times be abusive.
As for her future, Milke said that remains unclear, adding: "All I can do is take one day at a time."
(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Richard Chang)