Convicted murderer, Bill Macumber, freed from prison and professes innocence in news conference

PHOENIX - A man released after serving 37 years in Arizona prisons for two murders that he still insists he didn't commit said Thursday he considers himself just one of many victims in the case.

Bill Macumber spoke with reporters a day after he pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and was sentenced to time already served.

Macumber, now 77, said he didn't kill Joyce Sterrenberg and Timothy McKillop, and that he never considered pleading guilty to their 1962 murders in what was then desert land near Scottsdale.

"You can't have freedom without truth," Macumber said. "The order of importance is truth, freedom, responsibility."

The former Honeywell engineer entered his no contest plea in a deal struck with prosecutors as his lawyers challenged evidence and pressed for a new trial based on claims that he was innocent.

Macumber was first convicted of first-degree murder in 1975, more than a decade after the 1962 killings of Sterrenberg and McKillop, both 20-year-old telephone company workers, at a lovers lane.

Macumber was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

He was tried again in 1976-1977 after an appeals court determined the judge at his first trial didn't allow a ballistics expert to testify for the defense.

While in prison, Macumber worked as a cable television technician, laborer, warehouse worker, education aide and construction crew member. His near-spotless disciplinary record listed only one minor infraction -- participation in an unauthorized gathering in 1998.

Relatives of the victims objected to Macumber's release, saying Wednesday they still considered him guilty.

"It's hard to accept he's walking free," said Judy Michael, Sterrenberg's younger sister.

Macumber said Thursday he has "the utmost sympathy" for the victims' survivors.

"This whole case has been nothing more than a set of victims from beginning to end," he said. "We're all victims. That's about it."

Judge Bruce Cohen of Maricopa County Superior Court said there was evidence to support the original convictions, but it would never be known for certain what happened the night of the killings.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he agreed to the deal because prosecutors couldn't go forward with another trial after key evidence had been destroyed or lost over the years.

Defense attorneys argued that jurors weren't told during Macumber's second trial that another man had confessed to killing the couple. But the panel did hear testimony on behalf of Macumber that his estranged wife framed him by fabricating evidence while she worked at the Maricopa County sheriff's office.

Macumber declined to comment about the possibility of his ex-wife, Carol Kempfert, being involved. "If I never hear her name again, that's fine."

Kempfert denied framing him.

"I'm here to tell you that they let a double murderer out," she told ABC News Thursday night.

The Justice Project took up Macumber's case more than a decade ago, and he was represented in the latest court case by volunteers from the firm of Perkins Coie.

Macumber praised the two sets of lawyers and others who worked on his behalf and said he considers the Justice Project his second family.

He plans to go fishing with a cousin but otherwise declined to talk about his plans, including where he will live.

He expressed delight at spending time with family members, including one of his three sons. A second recently died, and another is estranged from Macumber, he said.

"Only time will tell" whether that estrangement will end, Macumber said. "I have one ... right now."

The ABC15 Investigators have been following this investigation for more than two years. You can read the original investigation here .

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