Woman who spent 23 years on US death row cleared of killing young son

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A woman who spent 23 years on death row in the United States over the killing of her young son saw her murder charge dismissed on Monday and the case against her closed.

Debra Milke, 51, and of German origin, had always maintained her innocence in the fatal shooting of her son in 1990 in Arizona. The boy was aged just four and was shot in the back of the head.

Milke had been sentenced to death based on the uncorroborated testimony of a senior investigator who claimed to have a confession from Milke, but who had a long history of misconduct.

Milke, who has been on bail since 2013, becomes the 151st person - but just the second woman - to be exonerated of the death penalty in four decades in the United States.

After spending more than two decades languishing on death row, Milke's conviction was overturned two years ago by a court of appeal because of the "egregious" conduct of the lead investigator.

On March 17, the Supreme Court of Arizona refused to hear the final appeal of the prosecution and Judge Rosa Mroz dropped all the charges on Monday.

According to the detective, Armando Saldate, the divorced mother had confessed to hiring two killers to murder her son because she no longer wanted him around, but there were no independent witnesses.

The detective had a long history of accusations against him of corruption and lying under oath, but that was never revealed to the court by prosecutors, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Centre (DPIC).

"Arizona's prosecutors have been accused of misconduct in more than half of all cases in which the state has imposed death sentences." the DPIC said.

Separately, the two men, Roger Scott and Jim Styers, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to death for the murder of the boy.

They are still on death row in Arizona.