After 38 Years Behind Bars, Bill Macumber Joins Those Freed by the Arizona Justice Project

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The board recommended that Macumber be released for time already served. He only needed the governor to sign off.

Then, the unthinkable happened: Jan Brewer denied the board's recommendation. (Lately, Brewer has been accused roundly for denying righteous clemency appeals to main a law-and-order posture.)

Macumber's spirit was dashed by the decision, and his health took a drastic turn for the worse.

In 2011, a trip to the hospital for a bowel obstruction turned into internal bleeding, a heart attack, and a coma. Before he'd emerged from critical condition, he'd lost 32 pounds.

Project staff and volunteers thought the old man they'd become so attached to over the years was dying. So with no other options, on February 2, 2012, the project — citing Macumber's ill health — filed a last-ditch petition to get him released.

The state came back with a deal: Macumber would be released for time served if he pleaded no contest to the lovers' lane murders.

His prison schedule still manifest in his life, Macumber rises at 4:30 a.m. Living in his son's home, he prepares breakfast for his two great-granddaughters, who get dropped off in the morning by Ron's daughter. Sometimes Macumber cooks them pancakes shaped like little men.

Abigail is 9, and Taylor is 11.

"I tell you, between the two of them, " he says, "they've put 38 years of prison in a shadow."

Macumber spends his days writing and responding to e-mails about his plan for prisoners to earn credits through the University of Arizona, and he often fields requests from journalists, who sometimes ask why, if he's innocent, as he's always claimed, he accepted a "no contest" plea deal.

"I'm sure it was the right choice," he says, since he seemed destined to die in prison otherwise. "I know it each time I hold my great-granddaughters on my lap."

When the children return from school, Abigail plops herself on the couch next to Macumber to watch cartoons. About 9:30 p.m., he goes to bed, the same time he did during 38 years of incarceration.

Lying there, he still listens for the metallic clink of a cell door closing.

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Weston Phippen
Contact: Weston Phippen