Bill Macumber, a convicted felon who spent almost four decades in prison for two murders he claimed his ex-wife framed him for, still denies he committed the crimes and said he "never lost hope" he would be granted his freedom.
"Justice however late is still justice," a teary-eyed Macumber told reporters at a press conference in Phoenix shortly after being released from prison. "When I was first questioned in 1974, I made the statement of innocence 10,000 times since, and I will take that statement to the grave."
The 77-year-old Macumber, who had no history of violence and has long maintained his innocence, 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.
After years of missing out on weddings and the birth of grandchildren, on Tuesday Macumber entered a plea of no contest for two counts of second-degree murder in Maricopa County Superior Court under an agreement with prosecutors and received a sentence of time served, securing his freedom. Although the victims' family asked Judge Bruce Cohen to deny his request, prosecutors said they couldn't pursue a third trial because key evidence had been destroyed or lost.
Macumber has spent decades trying to clear his name. His son, Ron Kempfert, and the Arizona Justice Project have been advocating for his release for years, saying that Ron's mother, Carol Kempfert, framed him and that another man committed the murders.
When Carol Kempfert first heard the news that her ex-husband was set free, she was in disbelief.
"It took me a while to process that they would let him out," she told ABC News in an exclusive interview. "After the second hearing with the parole board, when they said that they didn't believe that I had framed him and sent him back to jail, I thought that was it and all of a sudden he's out."
Kempfert said she passed four lie detector tests when she was questioned by police and maintains that she never tampered with evidence. Despite the court granting Macumber's request, Kempfert said that doesn't prove her ex-husband's innocence and closure for her would have meant he stayed in prison.
"I knew what happened, I was there, and I know he committed them," she said. "I would have to think that I was crazy, and I'm not. I did not frame him, and he did admit it to me and he did do it, and the evidence was there."
"They need to know they just let a murderer loose," she continued. "I feel sorry for the [victims'] families because I know they were unhappy with this, and all I can tell them is I did my best and it just didn't work, and I'm sorry for that."
On May 24, 1962, Sterrenberg and McKillop were 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: a .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.