New state attorney tells exonerees his office is about justice

- Debra Milke knew the date she was going to die.

"It was January of 1998," Milke said.

She was on Arizona's death row for  nearly half of her life for a crime she did not commit. Milke was falsely accused and convicted of killing her own son.

But an appeals court overturned her conviction in 2013.

"I was just bawling and bawling. Someone finally believed me. A judge, in fact, three judges," Milke said.

Milke is far from alone. A group of exonorees are meeting in Tampa to share their stories of injustice.

"What happened to me can happen to anyone. You don't have to be a criminal to get in the system," said Milke.

Hillsborough County's new state attorney, Andrew Warren shared with the group his vision of what justice looks like.

"You have to train people, re-educate them, and change the culture so that people understand their job is not to obtain convictions. Their job is to seek justice," Warren said.

RELATED: Former death row inmates bond over exoneration

Joaquin Martinez, who was wrongfully convicted and exonerated, agreed with the state attorney's vision.

"It's an honor for me to see you here today, " Martinez told Warren.

"We need more guys like you," another man told Warren.

The sentiments from these former death row inmates are much different than those in an envelope sent to the state attorney in Orange County. Aramis Ayala received a noose and a hate-filled letter after she said her office will not seek the death penalty on any case. The comments were made in regard to state lawmakers' struggles to iron out the death penalty sentencing, because the Supreme Court found the states procedures were unconstitutional.

After Ayala's declaration and the following firestorm, Governor Rick Scott removed her from all capitol cases and re-assigned them to a special prosecutor. 

Back in Tampa, Warren was asked about Ayala's situation.

"The state attorney in Orlando is accountable to the voters in her jurisdiction for those decisions," he explained.

Warren says his office will seek the death penalty for the worst of the worst. But as an innocent person who sat on death row for decades, Debra Milke wants it gone.

"There are 158 of us that have been exonerated from death row, so clearly something's wrong," said Milke.

A previous version of this story said Milke's son had bruises from CPR and that he died of medical reasons. The line referred to another exonoree's case and has been removed. 

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