Arizona Republic: Guilty Until Proven Innocent


I thought reporters who cover the courts for big city newspapers were supposed to understand how America’s justice system works. Apparently not, based on my reading of the Republic’s Michael Kiefer article, Debra Milke’s new world after a half-life on death row.

Here’s Kiefer’s bio:

Michael Kiefer is a senior reporter who has covered courts, justice and Maricopa County government issues for The Arizona Republic since 2003.

And here’s the reporting on Debra Milke’s recent release from prison by the senior reporter who has been covering the courts for over a decade:

Milke denied that she had any part in the murder, but a jury thought otherwise. She was sent to death row in 1991 and languished there until March 2013, when a federal appeals court threw out her conviction and her death sentence — not because she was exonerated, but because her constitutional rights had been violated. The prosecution and police had refused to turn over the spotty personnel record of a Phoenix police detective who claimed Milke had confessed to the arranged murder. There were no recordings or witnesses to prove the confession took place. [emphasis mine]

Spotty personnel record? To be more precise, the detective had lied in other cases and invoked his 5th amendment rights when asked to testify against Milke again. Oh those pesky details. But that’s almost besides the point, specifically: How does a reporter who supposedly understands our system of justice separate “exoneration” from the violation of constitutional rights? After all, the violation of Milke’s constitutional rights is what rendered the evidence presented against her unreliable, thereby exonerating her, as the County had failed to prove its case.

Here’s how: He doesn’t understand one of the most fundamental precepts of the system:

She still professes her innocence. Milke claims that she had nothing to do with her son’s murder. But there is no evidence to show she was not involved. [emphasis mine]

There you have it. In this reporter’s world, criminal defendants are guilty unless they can prove their innocence.

Seems like a high-school kid who earned a passing grade in Government could have done a better job. Just sayin’


  1. As recently as 2013, Armando Saldate was still using a badge and the authority of the State of Arizona for his own sexual gratification. It takes a county attorney of true ethical elasticity to claim Saldate’s word is worth anything. Because of that, we will never actually know if Milke was/is responsible for her son’s death.

  2. It’s also clear that you, yourself are ignorant of criminal law as you state “the county failed to prove it’s case.” Even an idiot knows that it is the state that prosecutes criminal offenses. While they may be handled by county attorneys it is not the county vs. Mike it is the state of az vs. Milke. Before condemning someone else for poor reporting maybe you should learn to report accurately, or at least leave it to the professionals.

    • Technically, you’re correct, but aren’t you picking nits? The County is a subdivision of the State, and the prosecution of this case was delegated to the County attorney’s office. It seems you just wanted to lash out at me here.

  3. Not only that, but even were she to have been involved, it is still more important — and increases the safety of all of us — to hold law enforcers to the highest standards. (The list of dangers, from ‘out-of-control’ cops to community distrust that prevents them from cooperating with the police, to the simple danger that the next time they ‘fit someone up’ it could be us, these are why violations are not ‘mere technicalities.’

    This says nothing about the reporting, because you’ve said it all. The man should be fired, or put on some beat where he can’t hurt anyone.

    • Right, Jim. In any first-year criminal law class, students study cases where a violations of constitutional rights lead to acquittal under the fruits of the poisonous tree doctrine, even where guilt is a virtual certainty. In Milke’s case, the constitutional violation went to the reliability of evidence, so it had the effect of exonerating her as well. But in cases involving illegal search and seizures, the issue tends to be admissibility more than reliability.

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