The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom
In this remarkable legal page-turner, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Barry Siegel recounts the dramatic, decades-long saga of Bill Macumber, imprisoned for thirty-eight years for a double homicide he denies committing.
In the spring of 1962, a school bus full of students stumbled across a mysterious crime scene on an isolated stretch of Arizona desert: an abandoned car and two bodies. This brutal murder of a young couple bewildered the sheriff 's department of Maricopa County for years. Despite a few promising leads—including several chilling confessions from Ernest Valenzuela, a violent repeat offender—the case went cold.
More than a decade later, a clerk in the sheriff 's department, Carol Macumber, came forward to tell police that her estranged husband had confessed to the murders. Though the evidence linking Bill Macumber to the incident was questionable, he was arrested and charged with the crime. During his trial, the judge refused to allow the confession of now-deceased Ernest Valenzuela to be admitted as evidence in part because of the attorney-client privilege. Bill Macumber was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
The case, rife with extraordinary irregularities, attracted the sustained involvement of the Arizona Justice Project, one of the first and most respected of the non-profit groups that represent victims of manifest injustice across the country. With more twists and turns than a Hollywood movie, Macumber's story illuminates startling, upsetting truths about our justice system, which kept a possibly innocent man locked up for almost forty years, and introduces readers to the generations of dedicated lawyers who never stopped working on his behalf, lawyers who ultimately achieved stunning results.
With precise journalistic detail, intimate access and masterly storytelling, Barry Siegel will change your understanding of American jurisprudence, police procedure, and what constitutes justice in our country today.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Siegel (A Death in White Bear Lake) leaves little room to doubt the innocence of Bill Macumber in this moving and powerful story of a Kafkaesque justice system gone awry. In 1962, a young engaged couple was gunned down outside of Phoenix. A lackadaisical handling of the crime scene stalled the investigation, until 1974, when, as Bill Macumber's marriage was falling apart, his wife, Carol (a sheriff's department clerk), told authorities that her husband had admitted to the killings, but that she had "forgotten completely about it" for more than a decade. That far-fetched claim was the prelude to a nightmare for Macumber, who was convicted of the crimes and condemned to a life behind bars, despite convincing evidence proving otherwise including a confession from a violent criminal, which was withheld from the jury. The quest for justice falls to the Arizona Justice Project, which battles roadblock after roadblock yet Macumber remains incarcerated. Reminiscent of Errol Morris's compelling investigation into the dubious proceedings of the Jeffrey MacDonald case in A Wilderness of Error, Siegel's detailed rendering of the decades of efforts on Macumber's behalf makes the horror of his situation resonate.