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Plea deal springs Arizona man, Bill Macumber, jailed 37 years in double murder amid concerns his wife framed him during a bitter divorce

The state clemency board, an innocence project and family members fought for his release, alleging his wife, who worked for a sheriff's department, had the means and the motive to pin the homicides on him. She has denied any wrongdoing. Macumber was allowed to plead no contest in the 1962 killings to which someone else, who later died, had confessed.. .

BY NANCY DILLON / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

PUBLISHED: THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2012, 9:39 PM

Bill Macumber
Bill Macumber has his shackles removed before a plea agreement for him to be released from prison Wednesday. He said little as he left prison but noted it was "a big day ... a family day."

An Arizona man jailed 37 years for murder is now walking free under a plea deal spurred by concerns his ex-wife framed him during a bitter divorce.

Bill Macumber, 77, was released for time served Wednesday after pleading no contest to the 1962 murders of two 20-year olds in the desert north of Scottsdale.

“We’re elated,” son Ron Macumber told the Daily News on Thursday. “We took him back to a family member’s house last night and had some pizza and just talked. He’s happy it’s finally over and he’s a free man.”

Bill Macumber
Bill Macumber hugs supporters after being released from prison Wednesday at Superior Court in Phoenix. Macumber reportedly took the plea deal only because it afforded him the opportunity to avoid admitting guilt for something he didn't do.

The son said Bill Macumber accepted the terms of his release only because he was allowed to plead “no contest” and not “guilty.”

“That was very important to him,” the son told The News. “He would never admit to something he didn’t do, even it meant dying in jail.”

The son said he’s convinced his mom framed his dad.

“This was all her doing. She had access to the evidence. I believe that she set him up,” the 45-year-old son now living with his family in Colorado told The News.

The victims in the 1964 murders, Joyce Sterrenberg and Timothy McKillop, each had two gunshot wounds to the head and were found on the ground outside Sterrenberg’s Chevrolet Impala.

Two years later, a man named Ernest Valenzuela began confessing to the murders in interviews with authorities, but detectives failed to connect the dots before Valenzuela died in jail in 1973 while serving time for an unrelated murder, the Arizona Republic reported.

A year after Valenzuela's death, Macumber's wife, Carol Kempfert, initiated Macumber’s prosecution when she told police he confessed committing the murders to her.

Macumber had no prior history of violence or any relation to the victims, but he was convicted at trial a year later in 1975.

The father of three never wavered in professing his innocence and eventually caught the attention of the Arizona Justice Project, a group that believes Macumber’s wife lied to cops to eliminate him from her life.

The wife worked for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department in 1974 and had access to evidence in the then-12-year-old cold case, Macumber’s lawyers have argued.

The spouses were estranged at the time and fighting over terms of their divorce.

Kempfert also was under pressure as the subject of an internal Sheriff’s Department scandal related to her sex life, the Daily Mail reported.

Lawyers for Macumber believe the wife used her position to tamper with key evidence including a partial palm print and ballistics material.

Despite his suspicions, son Ron Macumber said he has no plans to seek legal recourse against his mom.

"It’s over. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over. I’ve had nothing to do with my mom for 15 years, and I have no plans to change that now,” he told The News on Thursday.

Beyond Bill Macumber’s lawyers and family members, Arizona’s Clemency Board also fought for Macumber’s release in recent years.

The Board recommended his sentence be commuted in a rare letter to Gov. Jan Brewer in 2009 that called his conviction “a miscarriage of justice.”

“An injustice has been done in Mr. Macumber’s case,” the board wrote to Brewer. “(His wife) had the motive, means and opportunity to falsely pin the murders on Mr. Macumber.”

Brewer denied the request.

Carol Kempfert, 69, did not immediately respond to a message left at her residence in Olympia, Wash., on Thursday.

She denied any wrongdoing in a Nightline interview two years ago.

“I didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Gee, I think I’ll go frame my husband today,'” she told Nightline. “I did not manufacture, nor did I tamper with evidence, ever. And I passed four polygraphs, and I’ll be happy to take another.”

Before releasing Macumber, a judge in Maricopa County Superior Court said the case was not a clear-cut instance of an innocent man walking free.

“We will never know with certainty what happened on that 1962 night,” Judge Bruce Cohen said in court, according to The Arizona Republic.

Macumber shuffled out of a Phoenix jail a short time later, on Wednesday, and said little before heading off to celebrate.

“It’s a big day, but it’s a family day,” he told reporters.

ndillon@nydailynews.com

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