(PHOENIX) — A man who spent almost four decades in prison for killing two people in the Arizona desert Wednesday pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree murder and will go free.
Bill Macumber entered a plea in Maricopa County Superior Court under an agreement with prosecutors and received a sentence of time served. Although the victims’ family asked Judge Bruce Cohen to deny his request, prosecutors said they couldn’t pursue a third trial because key evidence has been destroyed or lost.
The 77-year-old Macumber, who had no history of violence, was convicted in the 1970s in one of the most sensational murder cases in the history of Arizona. Macumber was twice sentenced to life in prison for killing Joyce Sterrenberg and Tim McKillop, both 20 years old, and leaving their bodies in the desert.
On May 24, 1962, the young couple was found shot and killed next to their car in an area now near Scottsdale. The case went cold for 12 years until Macumber’s wife, Carol Kempfert, went into the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Department where she worked and told her supervisors that her husband had confessed to the murders. Macumber was arrested a week later.
In 1975, Kempfert testified against her now-ex-husband, again saying that he confessed. During the trial, three pieces of evidence allegedly had been collected by investigators at the scene and were also presented: Macumber’s .45 automatic pistol, a lifted palm print and bullet casings, according to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. At the time, prosecutors argued that the physical evidence linked Macumber to the murder scene.
Macumber was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to two concurrent life terms that year. After successfully appealing his convictions, Macumber was retried in 1977 and again found guilty and sentenced to two life terms.
In total, Macumber served 37 years in prison.
In 2009, Macumber and his attorneys petitioned the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency, which in a rare move unanimously recommended his sentence be commuted, saying, “An injustice has been done in Mr. Macumber’s case” and that his wife had “motive, means and opportunity to falsely pin the murders on Mr. Macumber.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer denied the recommendation for clemency.
In 2011, Macumber petitioned the court for post-conviction relief and was granted an evidentiary hearing. But without the necessary evidence, prosecutors said they were unable to retry the case. After the judge’s ruling Wednesday, Macumber will be released.
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