A detailed examination of a 1962 double murder that may have resulted in a wrongful conviction.
In 2010, Pulitzer Prize–winning former Los Angeles Times correspondent Siegel (English/Univ. of California, Irvine; Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets, 2008, etc.) became intrigued by “a scattering of news accounts” about the murder conviction of Bill Macumber, who remains in an Arizona prison, perhaps completely innocent of the double murder but never exonerated despite two jury trials and various post-conviction appeals. Maricopa County law enforcement agencies failed to solve the seemingly senseless murder of a young engaged couple. A career criminal with a history of violence named Ernesto Valenzuela confessed to murdering the lovers to two different lawyers representing him, and the lawyers believed him. But police never arrested Valenzuela for the crime, and prosecutors never charged him. Valenzuela died in 1973. The next year, Macumber's wife, Carol Kempfert told police and prosecutors that her husband had spontaneously confessed to the crime. Kempfert, who had been working toward a divorce and custody of the couple’s sons, was employed in a local law enforcement agency, establishing credibility with her co-workers. Siegel presents evidence that she had been carrying on sexual liaisons with multiple police officers, evidence denied by Kempfert. Whatever the reality, her account trumped that of her husband. He was arrested, and forensic examination of the murdered couple's car supposedly yielded a palm print matched to Macumber's palm. After a jury convicted him, he won a new trial on appeal and then lost again. Siegel explores the law school–based innocence project that served as Macumber's investigative team, which helped persuade an Arizona clemency board to release Macumber from prison in 2009. However, Gov. Jan Brewer refused to accept the unanimous recommendation.
A fascinating, convoluted murder mystery demonstrating that the law should never be confused with common sense.