US judge frees woman pending retrial over son’s death

LOS ANGELES - A German-born woman was freed from jail Friday after more than two decades behind bars for the murder of her 4-year-old son, after a judge ordered a retrial, a police spokesman said.

Debra Milke, 49, was freed on US$250,000 (S$320,000) bail pending the retrial, scheduled after a court in Arizona threw out her death sentence earlier in the year, spokesman Chris Hegstrom told AFP.

Milke, daughter of a German mother and US father, was convicted in 1990 for allegedly arranging the killing of her young son Christopher with two accomplices.

The two men told the youngster they were taking him to a mall to see Santa Claus in December 1989, but instead took him into the desert and shot him in the head, the trial heard.

But in March this year an appeal court judge threw out her conviction and death sentence because prosecutors had had not produced evidence about a detective who claimed that Milke had confessed to him.

Prosecutors pledged to press charges for a new trial, and on Thursday Maricopa County Superior Court judge Rosa Mroz ruled that Milke could be released on bail pending preparation of the retrial.

Mroz noted that the withheld evidence "casts serious doubt on the validity of the defendant's alleged confession," adding: "The existing information does not make it 'plain and clear' ... that the defendant committed the crimes.

"The court finds that the proof is not evident or presumption great that the defendant committed the crimes charged in the indictment," the judge wrote, according to the Arizona Republic.

One of Milke's lawyers, Mike Kimerer, said that she was ecstatic when told Thursday she was going to be freed. "I'm so overwhelmed by this, I don't know how to react to it," he cited her as saying, the newspaper reported.