PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona's highest court on Tuesday rejected a bid to retry a woman who spent 22 years on death row for the killing of her 4-year-old son.
The conviction was overturned because prosecutors failed to disclose a history of misconduct by the case investigator.
The Arizona Supreme Court's decision moved the case against Debra Jean Milke one step closer to being permanently dismissed.
The high court refused to hear an appeal by prosecutors who were appealing a lower court decision that ordered the case dismissed. The state Supreme Court issued its refusal in a brief order that offered no explanation.
Michael Kimerer, one of Milke's attorneys, said the decision means the case against his client is over, though a judge must first carry out an appeals court's wishes in dismissing the case.
"This has been 15 years. I'm still in a state of shock that it's finally over and that justice has finally been done," Kimerer said.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office pushed the case against Milke, said in a statement that Tuesday's decision marks "a dark day for Arizona's criminal justice system."
Montgomery, whose office hasn't yet revealed whether it plans to pursue another appeal, said the high court decision deprives victims such as Christopher Milke of their rights to justice.
Debra Milke's conviction and death sentence were thrown out two years ago by a federal appeals court that ruled prosecutors knew about Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate's history of misconduct but failed to disclose it. Multiple court rulings in other cases said the now-retired officer either lied under oath or violated suspects' rights during interrogations.
Prosecutors have sought a retrial while Milke, now 51, has remained free on bond since September 2013.
Authorities say Milke dressed her son Christopher in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall in December 1989. He was then taken into the desert near Phoenix by two men and shot in the back of the head.
Authorities say Milke's motive was that she didn't want the child anymore and didn't want him to live with his father.
The case rested largely on Milke's purported confession to Saldate, which he didn't record.
Milke has maintained her innocence and denied that she confessed to the killing. The two men who led her child to his death were convicted of murder but refused to testify against Milke.
Prosecutors insist Milke is guilty, but their ability to try her again was limited by the fact that Saldate said he wouldn't testify. He fears potential federal charges based on the U.S. appeals court's accusations of misconduct.
Milke filed a lawsuit Friday against the city of Phoenix, Maricopa County and numerous individuals alleging authorities violated her civil rights.
She contends she was denied a fair trial and was a victim of malicious prosecution.
Prosecutors and Daniel Brown, Phoenix's acting city attorney, declined to comment on the lawsuit.