Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Impending Wrongful Execution of Eric King: 3

Eric King sits on death row. The people of Arizona plan to execute him on 29 March. Though I stand mute for most executions, I fervently oppose this one. I believe Eric King may in fact be innocent of the crime for which he is to die.

This is the third part of a five-part series. Prior to reading this Part 3 you should first read Parts1 and 2. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. A link at the each Part will lead you to the next, leading you right back to this post.

Armando Saldate

So far, I have based almost information relating to King's case on the appellate ruling King v. Schriro. From reading the appellate decisons, nothing particularly unusual pops out regarding Armando Saldate. Recall that he was the detective who built the case against King by extracting information from Michael Jones in exchange for Jones' freedom / life. In browsing the internet, however, Saldate's role in this case adds considerably to my unease about King's conviction.

Counting his role in King's case, Armando Saldate has played a central role in placing five people on Arizona's death row. That makes him an ace. Unfortunately, the convictions are remarkably shaky. I'll summarize those other cases in a bit. First, I'll discuss an issue reflecting poorly on Saldate's character and performance as a detective.

In 1973, 13 years before Armando Saldate was to become the key figure in the Eric King case, he was suspended for conduct unbecoming an officer. I quote below from the separation notice.
In accordance with the provisions of Rule 19A of the Personnel Rules of the City of Phoenix, Arizona, you are hereby suspended from duty, without pay, for five (5) working days, effective Wednesday, September 5, 1973, through Sunday, September 9, 1973, inclusive.
On August 15, 1973, at approximately 8:40 P.M. while on duty, you stopped a woman at 1100 East Mohave for a traffic violation; a faulty tail light. You then determined that she did not have a driver's license and commenced writing her two repair order citations for he violations.
You also learned there was the probability a traffic warrant for her arrest existed. You did not verify the warrant, nor did you make an arrest as she promised to take care of the warrant in the near future.
To show her gratitude for not going to jail on receiving moving vehicle citations, the woman offered to kiss you. You proposed that the two of you go to a less conspicuous place and suggested 300 East Maricopa Freeway. The woman agreed, and you followed her to that location. There, you leaned inside the car, kissed her and deliberately began making advances and took liberties which amounted to conduct unbecoming an officer. Therefore, you have subjected yourself to disciplinary actions under the provisions of Phoenix Police Department General Order 3.3.4(7). Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and General Order 3.3.4.
Officer Saldate, although your actions to this matter were encouraged by the woman involved, the situation became even more aggravated when she offered, and you agreed, to meet later for the purpose of engaging in an act of sexual intercourse. When you got off duty, you went to the meeting place, but left when you found she was not there.
When you were interviewed by your supervisors concerning this incident, you specifically denied going to meet the woman after completing your shift.
In addition, you omitted some of the details of the incident regarding the liberties you took with the woman. This was discovered later when you were given a polygraph examination. You then admitted the complete details of your involvement and now realize your actions were grossly improper.
Officer Saldate, your past performance as a police officer has been satisfactory. However, because of this incident, your image of honesty, competency, and overall reliability must be questioned. Therefore, so must your value to the department be questioned.
Actions such as those you have exhibited while on duty, in full uniform, not only demonstrates extremely poor judgement and lack of concern for your profession, but also reflects directly upon the Phoenix Police Department as a whole, and will not be tolerated.
This suspension is intended to impress upon you the seriousness of your actions and to serve as a reminder that future infractions of this nature will result in more severe disciplinary action or dismissal.
I hesitate to include such material, so remote in time. I do so, however, because Saldate's own employer ruled that his "honesty, competency, and overall reliability must be questioned." It must be questioned still because it seems as if Saldate continued to mix sexual improprieties with dishonesty. It must be questioned to this day because a man's life depends on the integrity of his performance and integrity.

As late as 1989, three years after his central role in King's conviction, Armando Saldate was interviewing Sandy Pickinpaugh, sister of Debra Milke, one of the people Saldate helped place on death row. During that interview, Saldate volunteered a bizarre story. He claimed that while interviewing Debra Milke she flashed her breasts at him in order to, to, ... well that part is not really clear.
Saldate: So me and her talking and I'm telling her I'm not going to tolerate that. She's not going to do it. She -- dress looked very nice. She wraps the front of her blouse and she pulls it up to her eyes, she didn't have no tears, to wipe her tears away but she didn't have any.
Pickinpaugh: (Inaudible). 
Saldate: Yeah. Which quickly exposed her (inaudible). I didn't really pay that much attention to -- I knew, you see, my job, in my position I know what she was doing to me. I knew what she -- (inaudible). But see, I'm there for information, okay. And she's like trying to see if I -- 
Pickinpaugh: It's working.
Saldate: It's working. If he's looking at my breasts then I may be able to talk myself out of this. Okay. So that's what I'm telling you. That's the type of manipulation she does.
We can't check the recording of Milke's interrogation to see if Saldate was telling the truth or lying, or simply fantasizing. We can't check the recording because there is no recording. Saldate explained variously that he forgot to turn the recorder on, or that Milke would not allow him to record it.

We can't check with any one of the other people in the interview room, because there was no one else in the room. Saldate had instructed everyone else to leave.

We can't check with anyone who monitored the interrogation through a one way mirror, since apparently no one monitored the interview.

We can't check his contemporaneous notes. He destroyed his notes.

We know that he did not mention the incident in his paraphrased report of the interrogation, nor when he was in front of the grand jury, nor when he was in front of the jury.

Best I can tell, Armando Saldate never mentioned this alleged incident again.

What we can do is examine a news photo (or video freeze frame) taken of Debra Milke in the custody of Armando Saldate. I link to the photo below.

From the photo, we can see that Debra Milke was not wearing a blouse, as Saldate claimed she opened. She was wearing a long sleeve sweater. The reference explains that Debra Milke was wearing a white cardigan sweater and a pink T-shirt. 

Saldate should never have been alone in the interrogation room with a female suspect without someone monitoring the interview. It was a violation police procedures. Such procedures are intended to prevent  sexual impropriety, or false allegations of such impropriety. Saldate orchestrated a situation in which he was alone with Debra Milke, without monitoring, without recording, without notes. He then, based on the photo, lied about Debra Milke exposing herself to him.

And, as an aside, he claimed she then confessed to murdering her son.

"Officer Saldate, ... because of this incident, your image of honesty, competency, and overall reliability must be questioned.

Debra Milke

In December 1989, two men known to Debra Milke took her four-year old son to see Santa Claus at the mall. They then took him to the desert and shot him in the back of the head.

Saldate arrested Debra Milke and interviewed her as just described. He claims she confessed to hiring the two men to murder her son so that she could collect on his $5000 insurance policy As noted previously, no one else was in the room, no one monitored the interrogation, the recorder was not turned on, and Saldate destroyed his contemporaneous notes.

Saldate claimed he arrested Milke because Roger Scott, one of the two men who murdered Milke's son, told him that Milke hired them to kill Christopher. Scott allegedly confessed this to Saldate in a car, as Scott was leading the police to the body. Scott's enroute confession is as questionable as Milke's flashing breast confession. The other officer in the car with Saldate and Scott somehow never heard Scott confess.

Scott did, however, later provide the State with evidence they wanted to hear in exchange for his life. Based on his purchased testimony and her alleged confession, the jury found Debra Milke guilty of capital murder. 

Debra Milke remains on Arizona's death row to this day.

Jim Styer 

Jim Styer is one of the two men who took Christopher Milke, Debra's son, to the desert. The other was Roger Scott. The big question was which of the two men was going to die for the shooting, and which was going to spend his life in prison. Because Roger Scott implicated Debra Milke, and because Jim Styer refused to do so, Roger Scott was sent to prison and Jim Styer was sent to death row.

[Debra Milke's supporters argue the wrong people are on death row. They argue that Debra's ex-husband (and Christopher's father) hired Roger Scott to commit the murder, that Roger is the one who shot Christopher, and that Debra was not involved in any fashion.]

David Hyde

Less than two years after extracting disputed and undocumented confessions from Debra Milke and Roger Scott, Armando Saldate extracted a confession of murder from David Hyde after six hours of interrogation. Once again, Saldate was alone with Hyde. Once again, the interrogation seems not to have been recorded or witnessed. Once again, everyone had to rely on Saldate's paraphrased recounting of the interrogation. Once again everyone was forced to rely on Saldate's "honesty, competency, and overall reliability."

David Hyde was convicted and sentenced to death. Unlike the others, however, David Hyde had his conviction reversed on appeal, in part due to the unlawful confession extracted by Armando Saldate. Hyde pled no contest to second degree murder rather than risk a retrial, and walked free.

Eldon Shurz

Eldon Shurz is on death row for pouring a gallon of gasoline on a man confined in a small chain link pen and setting him on fire. Shurz admits to knocking the man down during a fight, but claims he was walking away from the scene when someone else lit the man on fire.

From the appellate decision:
Bahe was on the ground and, in an attempt to get away, crawled under a chain-link fence into a small enclosed rectangular space between a stairwell and a brick wall. Schurz picked up the plastic jug, smelled its contents, and then splashed gasoline on Bahe. Using a lighter, Schurz ignited a small puddle of gasoline. When the flames failed to spread to Bahe, he kicked the burning puddle toward him. Bahe went up in flames. After Schurz and Allison fled, Bahe managed to crawl under the fence and out of the enclosed space.
The State's case is shaky indeed. The victim's clothes were never tested for residual gasoline, and they did not smell of gasoline when removed from their sealed bag before trial. The state was forced to call in a snitch to bloster their case. Worse yet, they had no confession from Shurz, even though Armando Saldate worked on the case.

In this case, however, Saldate assisted with the prosecution in another, and unbelievable fashion. The State's case was that the victim had crawled under the fence into the enclosed, locked area before he was burned, and crawled back out afterwards. It was necessary to explain to the jury why the victim was found outside the enclosed area. To accomplish this, Armando Saldate transformed himself from master interrogator into an arson expert. Though members of the fire department were involved in the case, it was Armando Saldate who testified as the State's arson expert, though he was clearly unqualified to do so.

Saldate assured the jury that there had indeed been fire inside the fenced enclosure. He figured that out based on charring along the sidewalk. Even though he was not an arson expert, or even a member of the fire department, and even though the sidewalk has been sprayed with a fire hose and fire extinguisher prior to his arrival, he somehow knew and testified that the victim had been burned while within the enclosure, just as the State wanted the jury to believe.


Armando Saldate played a key role in Eric King's conviction. He obtained the confession from Michael Jones that sent Eric King to death row. However, because of Saldate's history of unprofessional behavior, both before and after the King trial, Saldate's "honesty, competency, and overall reliability must be questioned."

In Part 4, we'll look at the prosecutor and the appellate court. 

ERRATA: Included as a separate post, here