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Law students assist Arizona Justice Project with Macumber case

November 14, 2012

Students in the College of Law’s Post-Conviction Clinic, supervised by professor Zig Popko, recently assisted in a pro bono case in which murder defendant William Macumber was freed after being in prison for 37 years.

According to a Nov. 9 article in The Arizona Republic, the 77-year-old Macumber, who was found guilty of shooting a young couple to death in the desert north of Scottsdale in 1962, pleaded no contest on Nov. 7 to charges of second-degree murder in a deal with prosecutors that allowed him to walk free. Reporter Richard Ruelas wrote that Macumber’s release came after the Arizona Justice Project filed a motion questioning forensic evidence in his trials, as well as evidence that was not admitted – another man’s multiple confessions to the crimes.

“The Clinic’s involvement in the Macumber case was substantial,” Popko said. “The students, under my supervision and that of Arizona Justice Project attorneys Katie Puzauskas and Lindsay Herf, worked on various aspects including locating witnesses, interviewing them and, in some instances, obtaining affidavits. These witnesses included several then-employees of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office who were either involved in investigating the shooting or were intimately aware of the details of that investigation.

“Clinic students also helped find and interview the family of a woman who told police, near the time of the murders, that she saw the shooting, and then gave a description of the shooter to the police,” Popko said. “That description matched the person who did confess to the murders, Ernie Valenzuela. We tracked down this woman’s family because we knew that she kept a scrapbook of the incident and wanted to use it for any post-conviction proceedings.

“Students also researched various issues, including the current state of the science of ballistics evidence and legal research regarding whether any post-conviction petition could be filed, and the standards necessary to make a viable actual innocence claim under the current rules of criminal procedure,” he added. “The students also met with Mr. Macumber at the prison in Douglas to interview him as part of their investigation.”

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery noted that Macumber had not been exonerated, as his no-contest plea resulted in a felony conviction, according to the Republic report.

To read the article, click here