A judge today dismissed the murder case against an Arizona woman who spent more than 20 years on death row in the 1989 killing of her 4-year-old son. Debra Jean Milke hugged her supporters and sobbed as she exited the Phoenix courtroom. Judge Rosa Mroz ended the case after prosecutors lost their last appeal last week. Milke was convicted of murder in 1990 in the death of her son, Christopher. Authorities say Milke dressed him in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall in December 1989. He was instead taken into the desert near Phoenix by two men and shot in the back of the head. Authorities say Milke didn't want the child anymore and didn't want him to live with his father. Milke has maintained her innocence and denied that she ever confessed. The two men were convicted of murder but refused to testify against Milke.
An appeals court overturned Milke's conviction in 2013, ruling that prosecutors failed to disclose Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate's history of misconduct. Her conviction was based entirely on a confession Milke gave to the now-discredited Saldate, which he didn't record. Multiple court rulings in other cases said the now-retired officer either lied under oath or violated suspects' rights during interrogations. Saldate has said he would not testify at any retrial, citing fears of federal charges. Both county and federal authorities have said they don't intend to seek charges against him. Milke filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the city of Phoenix, Maricopa County, and numerous individuals. She alleges authorities violated her civil rights, denied her a fair trial, and maliciously prosecuted her. (Read more Debra Milke stories.)