Mothers are known to commit prolicide, or the killing of their own children, for a plethora of reasons. This case is controversial in that the mother, Debra Milke, was convicted solely based on the testimony of the arresting police officer, who argued that Milke’s son got in the way of her happiness and her ability to become involved with various men after divorcing her husband. It is possible Milke is indeed innocent. It is also possible that she isn’t. Perhaps no one will ever know the real truth behind the killing of her son. This is little Christopher Milke’s story.
Phoenix – Arizona – Saturday December 2 1989 – Preparing for Christmas, thousands of shoppers crowded the city’s Metrocenter Mall, including 4-year-old Christopher Milke and 41-year-old Jim Styrs, the roommate of 25-year-old Debra (Debbie) Milke. During the shopping spree, Stiers contacted security and informed them that little Christopher had gone missing. Security guards began searching the mall but without luck. Milke claimed at the time her son went missing she was at home: “He said that he and Chris had gone to use the bathroom in Sears and that when he was finished he couldn’t find Chris anywhere. This is in a crowded mall full of people. Of course I was begging him and pleading with him to find him and he said I’ve been trying, I’ve been trying.”
Milke contacted police and her parents, who were separated. She failed to call Mark Milke, her ex-husband and the boy’s father. Mark immediately suspected Milke and Styers of foul play. By nightfall, there was no trace of little Christopher. Television news reported the incident, pleading with the public to contact police if anyone knew of his whereabouts. During the investigation, detectives asked Styers to point out which toilet he used in the washroom. One detective examined the stall and discovered the toilet seat was missing. Styers insisted, “oh yeah man, I really had to go.” Styers revealed Roger Scott, his friend, had also been with him that day. Scott was an outsider who lived with his mother and a follower of Styers. 41-year-old Scott was also questioned.
Scott wasn’t an intelligent man. When he was brought to the police station and questioned for several hours, Scott broke down and confessed he was part of a plot to kill the little boy. “Jim and I had talked about it a few times and finally they came in and I didn’t think Jim would go through with it but he did.” He stated they never went to the shopping mall but rather went out to the desert where Styers killed the child by shooting him in the head. Stiers placed the body behind some bushes, then went to the mall “and contacted security, saying Christopher was lost.” Scott stated Milke had plotted to have him killed and offered them payment to do it for her. Scott stated Milke said “she had to get away from him and she just wasn’t cut out to be a mother.” The boy was found where Scott had said he would be, with three bullet holes in the back of his little head. Within hours, Detective Armando Saldate informed the community that Debra Milke had confessed to the murder of her son, which wasn’t true. He insisted the case was solved through “solid, timely police work.” Ultimately, Milke did confess. Styers did not.
Debra Jeane Sebek
Milke was born in a military hospital in 1974. Milke was an army brat whose family moved frequently. Milke’s father was a heavy drinker and the marriage wasn’t a happy one. When she was 14, Milke’s Sebek’s parents divorced. Milke had a plainer, younger sister named Sandy and the two were bitter rivals. Their relationship was so strained that Debbie stayed with her father and Sandy moved in with their mother. When Debbie was 19, her mother moved to Germany for her own schooling, leaving Debbie behind in their apartment. This left a void in her life and Debbie filled it with ongoing parties. Debbie married Mark Milke at 20 and immediately became pregnant with Christopher. “I was ecstatic and so was she,” Mark Milke declared. “Having Christopher gave me a purpose…made me feel complete,” Debbie declared. Mark stated Debbie began to question her own “ability to be a mother.” It wasn’t long before Milke and Debbie divorced.
Like her parents had done, Milke moved to different apartments repeatedly with her son. Susie Stinson became Milke’s roommate. “She had a way with the guys, they were very attracted to her….and sometimes I think Christopher got in the way with that. That was an issue. It would interfere with her guy life.” Debbie experienced stressors as a single mother. At age 3, Christopher developed a thyroid condition, making him hyperactive. Milke struggled to support her son on a secretary’s salary. Eventually she moved in with the unemployed Jim Styers, who had a 2-year-old daughter. Stiers was an oddball. He wasn’t much smarter than Roger Scott and had an infatuation with Milke, who didn’t return the interest. Styers often babysat for Milke. He took lithium for depression and an anti-psychotic for audial hallucinations.
Milke insisted, “I loved my son more than anything I didn’t murder anyone. I tried to be a good mother, yes and being a mother was something that I absolutely enjoyed.” She stated she had no idea why Styers and Scott killed her son. “I really would rather not say….I don’t know why Jim would do this.” Saldate claimed Milke made a full confession for 30 minutes about her involvement with the crime, a confession that wasn’t recorded. Saldate’s word was the entire piece of evidence against Milke. He claimed Milke claimed, “I guess I made a bad judgment.” He claimed he threw away his notes. Mark Milke was stunned by the news but believed Debbie was capable of masterminding the plot.
Milke’s lawyer, Kirk Fowler, stated, “If you’ve got a confession from somebody you want that to be witnessed, you want it to be signed, you want it to be recorded because you’ve got it….police officer says ‘I’ve got a confession’ and that’s it.” Many witnesses testified against Milke. Her sister Sandy claimed that Milke often pawned off her child on relatives and left him in their care for days and weeks. “She had trouble dealing with Christopher. Christopher was high-strung…she often found herself scared because he would stress her to the point where she would feel violent.” She also stated that killing
Christopher was Milke’s attempt to reconcile with her ex-boyfriend Ernie. “She told me that Earnest was in love with her, that Earnest wanted to marry her but that Christopher was a burr in his side.” Milke’s father also testified against his daughter, stating she would withhold visits with Christopher as an attempt to get money from him. Milke stated that “as far as my sister, she has the tendency to be…spiteful.”
In spite of Scott insisting that Milke offered him money to kill her son, there was no evidence of payment from Milke. Prosecutors believed Milke possessed “obsessive selfish with no regard for the lives of others….She decided that it’d be best for Christopher Milke to die.” He explained his police report to the jury. In the beginning of his report, Saldate wrote that Milke didn’t admit to killing Christopher but admitted to “feeling sorry for her son because of his father’s negative influence…She did not want him to grow up to be like her husband, Mark Milke.” Saldate claimed, “look I just didn’t want him to grow up like his father. I’m not a crazy person. I’m not an animal.”
Ultimately, the jury chose to believe the detective and Milke was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, which carried a death sentence. Later, Milke’s death sentence would be overturned to life in prison.
Release From Prison
On December 11, 2014, after a successful appeal to the Arizona State Appeals Court, judges agreed that there was no solid evidence offered against Debra Milke at her trial. Saldate’s evidence was thrown out and the conviction finally overturned. By the time Milke was released from prison she was a 45-year-old white-haired woman who had spent half of her life behind bars. The Arizona state appeals court ordered the dismissal of murder charges against Milke, ruling that a retrial would result in unconstitutional double jeopardy.
Today Milke is a stunning white-haired, classy-looking woman who has freely given interviews to reporters about Christopher’s death and what she alleges was her wrongful conviction. If Milke wasn’t the mastermind behind her son’s murder then what was Styer’s motive in killing her son? It was suggested that he wanted both money and a sexual relationship with Milke however if Milke is innocent then the only motive he had was a sexual relationship with her – and killing her son to achieve that goal makes no sense. He was a man Milke had trusted to babysit her son on several occasions and he did so without incident. There was no sexual assault committed against the boy peri=mortem or post-mortem. On the other hand, why would a detective fail to record a murder interrogation, type up notes afterward, then discard them?
In the end, the court did right by Milke in releasing her since there was no direct evidence in connection with her child’s murder. This doesn’t mean she is innocent. There simply isn’t any direct evidence.