(KPNX) Debra Milke was a celebrated villain of 1989, a woman accused and convicted of dressing up her 4-year-old son to see Santa Claus and, instead, sending him off to be shot execution-style in a desert wash.
She is one of three women on Arizona's death row.
But on Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out her death sentence and murder conviction because the trial court refused to let her introduce evidence that might have discredited her supposed confession.
The Phoenix police detective who claimed Milke confessed to him had a history of lying to grand juries and extracting confessions even from unconscious suspects on hospital gurneys, according to the court opinion.
There were no witnesses to the confession, and it was not recorded.
Milke denied she ever confessed.
The 9th Circuit asked the U.S. District Court to send the case to the Arizona court system for a new trial and ordered that the detective's personnel files be made available for Milke's defense.
Assistant Arizona Attorney General Jeffrey Zick said his office will likely ask a larger panel of 9th Circuit judges to rehear the appeal before taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Milke was tried and convicted in Maricopa County Superior Court, but a spokesman for the County Attorney's Office said it would defer to the Arizona attorney general pending the appeal.
-- Oralia Ortega, KPNX reports.