PHOENIX — William Macumber, who was released from an Arizona prison in late 2012 after serving 37 years for a notorious double murder he insisted he never committed, is behind bars again after being arrested in Colorado on charges of sexually assaulting a young female relative.
Macumber was free for less than a year before his recent arrest. He had been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in the 1962 murders of two 20-year-olds who were parked in a lovers' lane area of Scottsdale.
Macumber was released in November 2012 under a plea agreement with Maricopa County prosecutors after the Arizona Justice Project raised questions about evidence in the case.
After he stepped out of prison, he spoke about his decades behind bars as evidence of a justice system gone wrong. He gave many interviews in the weeks following his release, including to The Arizona Republic. He was also invited to speak in front of legal groups and at signings for a book, "Manifest Injustice," written about his case.
Macumber was arrested in Colorado on Oct. 7, according to Arapahoe County court records. He was charged with four counts of sexual assault of a child, as part of a pattern of abuse, records say. Each count is a Class 3 felony, punishable by a minimum of four years in prison. Macumber is being held on $200,000 bail.
The arrest of Macumber, 78, was brought to the attention of The Republic on Tuesday by Macumber's ex-wife, Carol Kempfert. Macumber's attorneys, in arguing for his release, had suggested Kempfert may have framed him for the 1962 murders.
Macumber denies the sex-abuse allegations, according to Larry Hammond, a Phoenix attorney who had worked with the Arizona Justice Project to free Macumber. Hammond, who has been in weekly contact with Macumber, is his attorney on personal matters, but not the Colorado criminal charges.
Macumber is being represented by a public defender in Arapahoe County, Hammond said.
Macumber had been living in Colorado with his son, Ronald.
Ronald Macumber said Tuesday that young relatives in his family had at first been excited about William Macumber's move to Colorado. But by August, he said, they told Ronald they didn't want to be around William anymore. Court records say the abuse occurred between April and August 2013.
Ronald Macumber said he confronted his father. His father's responses made Ronald feel he needed to kick his father out of the house.
William Macumber then tried to stay with a relative in another Colorado city, Ronald said. But Ronald informed that relative of the accusations. The relative's family includes a social worker and a deputy sheriff who, under state law, had to report the allegations, Ronald said. A municipal police department swore out a warrant for Macumber's arrest in September, records say.
By then, William Macumber had flown to Phoenix, where he stayed with a filmmaker who had made a 2010 documentary about his case. He made arrangements to return to Colorado and surrender himself in October, his son said.
Ronald Macumber was 7 when his father first went to prison. In 2003, the two reconnected after Ronald began to have doubts about the conviction. He started writing to William Macumber in prison and later changed his last name from his mother's maiden name to his father's.
Ronald said that alienated him from his mother and his two brothers, all of whom testified against Macumber at a clemency hearing.
"It makes me angry to no end, for the 12 years I spent to get him out of jail, to do what he did," Ronald Macumber said. "When he's found guilty, he can rot in prison. He's lost everything as far as I'm concerned."
The tale of Macumber's murder conviction and his decades behind bars had been the subject of national media attention, especially following his release from prison in November 2012. A book, Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought For His Freedom, detailed his convictions and the court machinations that resulted in his release.
Macumber was first arrested in 1974 on charges stemming from the 1962 killings of Joyce Sterrenberg and Timothy McKillop. It was his first run-in with the law of any kind, including, he said, parking violations.
The 1962 case had grown cold.
But Kempfert, who was working at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office at the time, told deputies that her husband had suddenly confessed to the killings a dozen years later. Deputies re-examined evidence and found Macumber's prints. His attorneys would later suggest Kempfert planted them there.
Macumber was convicted in 1975 and then, after that case was tossed on appeal, was re-tried and convicted again in 1976. He was sentenced to life.
After the Justice Project raised doubts about the case, the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency voted in 2009 to release Macumber, who had amassed a stellar record of conduct and public service behind bars.
Gov. Jan Brewer denied the pardon request without comment. Stories on ABC News, the New York Times and The Republic followed. The board denied Macumber clemency again in 2012.
The same year, attorneys working on behalf of the Justice Project filed a motion for a new trial. A judge ruled there was enough question to hold hearings on the matter.
Maricopa County prosecutors, faced with the possibility of a re-trial of a decades-old case with long-discarded evidence, struck a plea deal. Macumber pleaded no contest to the murders and was sentenced to the time he had already served. He walked out of a state prison complex in Phoenix that afternoon.
Hammond said Macumber could have been released from state prison years before if he had agreed to admit guilt and express remorse. But he refused.
Macumber was taking a similar stance with the latest charges, Hammond said.
"He's not going to plead to anything," Hammond said. "There is no conceivable charge to which he would plead."
The Republic made a request to interview Macumber through the Sheriff's Office, but had not heard by Tuesday whether Macumber had accepted or declined the offer.
Macumber is tentatively scheduled for trial in July, Hammond said. The main evidence in the case is the testimony of two young female relatives. But the possibility of having the girls testify weighs on Macumber.
"One thing he does not want to do is put these girls through more than they have to be through," Hammond said.
An investigator working with prosecutors in Colorado contacted a relative of William Macumber's ex-wife, Kempfert, who in turn contacted The Republic.
Kempfert has long insisted that Macumber confessed the double murders to her more than a decade after they occurred. She also has denied planting evidence in the evidence room of the Sheriff's Office, where she worked.
"I'm so angry people twisted and turned everything," she said. "That is what makes me so angry. There is a child out there who is a victim that didn't have to be."
Ronald Macumber said he still believes his father was wrongfully convicted of the 1962 murders. But he believes his father is guilty of the current sex charges.
"I believe he's still innocent of the murders," Ronald Macumber said, "But I know for a fact he's not the man I thought he was."